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Topical Questions

Volume 527: debated on Wednesday 27 April 2011

I have overall responsibility for the work of the Cabinet Office, while the Deputy Prime Minister has specific responsibility for the Government’s programme of political and constitutional reform.

Last week on the doorstep in Wellingborough, the hot issue was the responsibility of the Cabinet Office for implementing constitutional reform. Why is it that, under the alternative vote, British National party votes and Socialist Workers party votes in my constituency would be counted twice, but Tory votes would be counted only once?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. That is no doubt why, I gather, rather more than half of Labour MPs now support first past the post.

T3. Staff at My Civil Service Pension are concerned that plans to turn the organisation into a mutual are a step towards privatisation. The Minister said in a meeting with union representatives in March that he would not act without the broad consent of the work force. Will he tell us how he has consulted those staff and whether he yet has that consent? (52600)

We are moving down the path of freeing up My Civil Service Pension so that it can administer in the most efficient way civil service pensions to the 1.5 million members who are dependent on them. We are exploring different ways in which that might be configured, but crucially, employees will have a meaningful stake in that entity going forward.

T2. Fifty business leaders have got together to offer free mentoring advice to small and new business start-ups in my constituency. Will the big society Minister meet me to see how we can roll out that initiative beyond north Yorkshire? (52599)

The short answer is yes. More than ever, the country needs to get behind its entrepreneurs. My hon. Friend’s local initiative sounds like an excellent one, and I would be delighted to meet him—[Interruption.]

Order. There is far too much noise and far too many private conversations are taking place in the Chamber.

T5. Which Cabinet Office conferencing, translation and interpreting services have not been put out to tender for small businesses to win, and why not? (52602)

T4. When can the House expect the Public Bodies Bill? What will be in the Bill, and can we revert to the normal practice, whereby such controversial Bills begin in this House and not in the other place? (52601)

The Public Bodies Bill is obviously very important—it is an opportunity to improve radically the accountability of decisions and to make significant savings from the vast number of quangos that proliferated under the previous Administration. My hon. Friend will know that the Bill is passing through the Lords, with Third Reading expected on 9 May. Obviously, it is for the House authorities to determine the programming for debate in the House, but we expect the Bill to enter Committee after the Whitsun recess.

T7. A recent survey of charity leaders by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations suggested that charities are not happy, because they feel that the rhetoric that was sold to them before and after the election bears no resemblance to the money that they need to ensure that they deliver the services that are required. Forget about all the waffle, will the Minister tell us exactly how he will fund those charities and how he will ensure that they do things for people? (52604)

There is obviously understandable concern in the sector about the impact of reductions in public expenditure, but in my experience, charities are increasingly alive to the opportunity to deliver more public services—they are delighted by the announcements in the Budget to increase giving and by the progress that the Government have made in setting up the big society bank.

T6. Will my hon. Friend the Minister please update the House on the progress of the national citizen service? Will he join me in congratulating the Lincolnshire and Rutland Education Business Partnership, which I have met on a number of occasions, on the invaluable work that it is carrying out to pilot and promote the national citizen service? (52603)

The national citizen service provides a fantastic opportunity for young people from different backgrounds to work together to make a positive difference to their communities. I am delighted that we are offering 11,000 places this summer in many locations throughout the country. I am also delighted that that scheme is coming to Lincoln, and that my hon. Friend is taking such an active interest in such positive opportunities for young people in his constituency.

VAT issues are obviously a matter for the Treasury, and I would refer that question to Treasury Ministers. As the hon. Gentleman knows—he is a former Minister—that is a long-standing issue for the sector. He will also be aware of a number of initiatives to look at how we can make the VAT regime more helpful.

T9. Will the Minister relax regulations on investments by foundations and trusts to empower them fully to support innovations such as social impact bonds? (52606)

My hon. Friend will know that this Government are totally committed to helping to develop the social investment market, so making it easier for social entrepreneurs to access capital. The big society bank is our major player in that area, but we are looking at a range of ideas. He will also be aware that the Charity Commission is reviewing its guidance to foundations, which have a critical role to play in that context.

T10. Why is the public sector mutual fund late in going out to tender, and when will it be ready to accept bids? (52607)

We will announce details in due course. It would have been easy to go ahead and just flash money around, but there is not much money thanks to the legacy of the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported. We need to ensure that the money is husbanded and spent wisely, for example by providing advice for groups of public sector workers, of whom there are very many who want to form mutuals, and by ensuring that the advice is made available to as many as possible.

In his discussions about public sector contracts for small business, will my right hon. Friend talk to the Ministry of Defence about its habit of bundling together contracts for multiple services, which means that an expert calibration firm in my constituency cannot offer the specialised service unless it also offers paperclips and toilet rolls?

My right hon. Friend makes a good point, and I will take it up. It is exactly how contracts are bundled up and procurements are undertaken that has squeezed out so many really effective small businesses from the Government market. That is exactly what we now want to change.