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Topical Questions

Volume 532: debated on Wednesday 7 September 2011

As Minister for the Cabinet Office, I am responsible for the public sector Efficiency and Reform Group, civil service issues, industrial relations, strategy in the public sector, Government transparency, civil contingencies, the civil society and cyber-security.

Okehampton, in my constituency, has recently seen unemployment treble virtually overnight, although the figure has now decreased dramatically due to local action. It is holding a very important event this week, “Okehampton Works”, bringing together public, private and voluntary organisations to focus on employment, which is an important step towards the big society locally. Will my right hon. Friend join me in visiting Okehampton to meet, and learn from, those who have pioneered that important initiative?

I should be delighted for either myself or the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), to join my hon. Friend in Okehampton to discuss those very issues. There is a huge amount that can be done.

One quango that has done a really good job since it was brought in by the Labour Government is the Security Industry Authority, which licenses bouncers outside pubs. One role that it has not yet been given is the licensing of private investigators. We have seen over the past year that some private investigators are very good people, but some of them are the scum of the earth. Should we not be licensing them and giving that power to the authority?

Whatever the merits of the hon. Gentleman’s point, it is one that he should make to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has responsibility for these matters.

T2. In the light of the excellent work in Lincoln this summer of the pilot national citizen service managed by the Lincolnshire and Rutland Education Business Partnership, can my hon. Friend assure me that careful consideration has been given to the EBP’s bid for next year, which I wholeheartedly support, so that it can be the deliverer of the NCS for the whole of Lincolnshire in 2012? (69955)

I am grateful to Lincolnshire and Rutland Education Business Partnership for the excellent work that it has done this summer, which is a really good example of communities working together to support the NCS. As I have said before, we are giving careful consideration to all bids received to run the 2012 pilots and will be making an announcement very shortly. [Interruption.]

Order. There really is far too much noise in the Chamber. It is very discourteous to the Member asking the question and the Minister whose answer we want to hear. I hope the House will show some respect for Mr Sammy Wilson.

What arrangements does the Minister intend to put in place to ensure that places such as Northern Ireland benefit from the opportunities presented by the big society bank?

I was in Belfast just a few weeks ago, at Hillsborough castle, talking about just that to a section of community organisations and social enterprises that were fascinated by the big society bank. We made it very clear that it was open for business in Northern Ireland.

T4. I enjoyed a very rewarding week of volunteering in my constituency during the summer with Mencap, the National Trust, Kirkwood hospice, the Forget Me Not Trust and many more. Does the Minister agree that volunteering should be a key component of the national citizen service? (69957)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the sterling example that he has set others. Of course, one of the purposes of the national citizen service is to connect young people with their power to make a positive difference in their communities. If he had visited some of the pilots that I did, he would have been absolutely inspired by the enthusiasm with which they undertook that task.

In opening access to public data on the performance of our publicly subsidised railways, does the Minister recognise that real-time running information would be even more powerful in driving innovation that would aid the travelling public? Will he get train operators to be more open with such public data?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. These are services that rely on public subsidy, and that information is incredibly valuable and capable of providing enormous benefit to the users of public transport. It can drive more passengers on to public transport, which we all want, so it is in not only the public interest but the operators’ interest to make such data available.

T5. Further to our meeting in May, may I ask my right hon. Friend what progress has been made with the relocation of part of the central Government estate from central London? (69958)

At this stage we are concentrating on simply reducing the footprint of the Government’s property estate, which was allowed to grow massively out of control under the last Government because there were no controls whatever. Rather than looking to relocate, at this stage we are simply looking to reduce what the Government occupy. I know that Croydon, which my hon. Friend represents vigorously, is a very good location out of central London for Government services to operate from.

T7. Small and medium-sized enterprises in my constituency warmly welcome the steps that the Government are taking to make it easier for them to win Government contracts, but they also need better access to finance to win such contracts. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to help with that? (69960)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that without the finance, SMEs cannot take part. I am delighted to be able to tell him that in the first half of the year, SME lending has almost lived up to the target set in the Merlin agreement for SMEs—it is within £1 billion—which is a major achievement.

T8. Does my hon. Friend agree that the promotion of youth organisations such as the Passion youth centre in Shepshed, which are often set up by churches, should be a cornerstone of the Government’s response to the riots over the summer? (69961)

I should certainly like to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Passion youth centre and the local churches that support it. That seems to be an excellent example of the community pulling together to make better use of an old facility, which is exactly the type of thing that we are trying to encourage through the Localism Bill, Big Society Capital and the Community First grant programme.