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Topical Questions

Volume 534: debated on Wednesday 2 November 2011

My responsibilities as Minister for the Cabinet Office are for the public sector efficiency and reform group, civil service issues, industrial relations strategy in the public sector, Government transparency, civil contingencies, civil society and cyber-security.

The average pension for a woman retiring from the NHS is £3,000 and the average local government pension is £4,000. Does the Minister accept that if we increase the contributions for a worse pension, more people will simply opt out and we will end up paying more through the state benefits system?

It is in no one’s interest that public sector workers should opt out of pension schemes. The numbers to which the hon. Lady refers do not in any way reflect the pension that people retire on after a full career. That is the average, including many people who serve relatively short times in the public service. At the end of these reforms public sector pensions will still be among the very best available, much better than those available to most people in the private sector, who have no chance of enjoying such pensions. [Interruption.]

Order. There are far too many noisy private conversations taking place. The House will want to hear Stephen Mosley.

T3. Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can the Minister update the House on the progress of negotiations with the trade unions on public sector pension reform? (77769)

We have made progress and my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary and I met the TUC again this morning. My right hon. Friend will make a statement to the House later. As I said, our intention is that public sector pensions will continue to be among the very best available, but fair both to public sector staff and to the general taxpayer, who has had to bear an increasing burden of the cost of paying for these pensions in recent years.

During last week’s debate on the Public Bodies Bill, the Government voted to scrap the role of the chief coroner, despite opposition from Opposition Members and from Back-Bench Conservative Members as well. Responding, the Royal British Legion said that it was

“saddened that this opportunity to do the right thing by bereaved Service families was not taken”

by the Government. As we approach Remembrance Sunday, is it not time that the Government did the right thing and listened to the Royal British Legion?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard Ministers in the Ministry of Justice talking about this when we debated the matter last week, and I think they made a very good case for what the Government intend to do.

T4. Can my right hon. Friend say how the British Government compare with the French Government when it comes to the number of contracts they procure with domestic suppliers? (77770)

The procurement practice that we inherited from the previous Government militates heavily against the interests of UK suppliers and UK jobs, especially when it comes to very large contracts. Both France and Germany, which do not operate protectionist regimes and which obey the rules, give away fewer jobs to other countries. We are looking at this to see how we can support UK suppliers in a way that the previous Government signally failed to do.

T2. Speaking of fewer jobs, the Public Bodies Bill scrapped regional development agencies. My constituent Mark Davenport invested £6,000 setting up a business installing solar panels. At six weeks’ notice, the investment made by thousands of businesses was wiped out by a dramatic cut in the feed-in tariff scheme. Can the Minister explain to Mr Davenport how the abolition of the RDAs and now the cut in feed-in tariffs is helping jobs and growth? (77766)

What the hon. Gentleman needs to deal with is the fact that the regional development agencies in their time never managed to achieve what they set out to achieve and acquired vast liabilities—an astonishing achievement for development agencies. The solar tariffs had to be reduced because they were a disgrace and would have cast ill-repute on the whole of the very important programme that we have for supporting renewables and feed-in tariffs in this country.

T5. People in Edgworth in my constituency found out that their bus service is being scrapped for want of £10,000, although the local authority can still find almost £100,000 to support trade union activity. What action will the Government take to end taxpayer-funded activity within the public sector? (77771)

I have already said what we are planning to do in relation to the civil service. Obviously, local authorities must answer for their own affairs, but the guidance is that those arrangements should be reviewed regularly. I urge my hon. Friend to put pressure on his local authority to explain how it justifies spending money that should be spent on front-line public services supporting vulnerable people on subsidising trade union activity instead.

What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues who are responsible for the Work programme about openness and transparency? They are yet to publish any performance data on the programme. Moreover, they have banned Work programme providers from publishing their own performance data, as many of them would like to do.

All the indications are that the Work programme is a successful move, and I will make those representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. We are generally the most open Government ever. We lead the world in transparency and have gone much further than the Government of whom the right hon. Gentleman was a distinguished member ever dreamt of going.

T6. Having heard the excellent news this week on the increase in apprenticeship places, which are up 50% to 442,000, does my hon. Friend agree that the national citizen service can also play a key role in helping our young people into work? (77773)