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Topical Questions

Volume 540: debated on Wednesday 8 February 2012

My responsibilities are for the public sector, the Efficiency and Reform Group, civil service issues, industrial relations strategy in the public sector, Government transparency, civil contingencies, civil society and cyber-security.

Will the Minister explain how the Government’s action in allowing the chief executive of the Student Loans Company not to pay tax or national insurance on his £182,000 salary is in line with his own Government’s report, “Tackling Debt Owed to Central Government”? Does the Minister agree that this Government have one rule for the rich and another for everyone else?

T2. In reply to a question I tabled last July, my right hon. Friend emphasised the importance of reforming the civil service appraisal system. Will he update the House on what changes have been made? (94036)

We have already put in place new arrangements for the senior civil service and they will be rolled out for the whole civil service at the delegated grades. It is really important that appraisal identifies the very best performers, rewarding them with promotion and proper pay, and pays serious attention to those who underperform, who cause massive demoralisation to the hard-working majority of dedicated civil servants.

T3. Given the fact that the report of the Public Administration Committee, “A Recipe For Rip-Offs”, has recommended that owing to allegations of anti-competitiveness and collusive behaviour by some large IT suppliers, the Government should establish an independent and external investigation into those claims, will the Minister agree to implement the recommendations and set up an investigation into the oligopoly of large suppliers? (94037)

The hon. Gentleman is completely correct that an oligopoly of IT suppliers has, to far too great an extent, dominated Government ICT contracts. We seek to change that by having smaller contracts and much quicker and better procurement processes, but we have a legacy of huge contracts with that oligopoly of suppliers and are looking at how we can deal with that.

T8. Europe’s most energy efficient data centre was recently opened by Ark Continuity near Corsham on the edge of my constituency, providing resilient top-tier security infrastructure. Given the Minister’s interest in improving public sector information, communications and technology, can I interest him in joining me on a site visit to see that world-leading technology for himself? (94042)

I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and that installation. There are now ways of providing much better ICT at a much lower cost and in a much greener way. We are exploring all of them and I would be delighted to share our thinking with my hon. Friend—[Interruption.]

Order. There is far too much noise. We can scarcely hear the Minister’s answers, which is unfair on the Minister and unfair on the House.

T4. Sixty per cent. of Welsh Government public procurement contracts are awarded to SMEs, half of which are in Wales. In England the figure is less than 10%. Given that SMEs invest more in local jobs, pay more tax and create more growth, what is the Minister doing to ensure that SMEs get business in England, instead of the money being siphoned off abroad? (94038)

We are radically reforming procurement to cut the cost to businesses. Bidding for public sector contracts has been far too expensive, both for the taxpayer and for bidders, and it is entirely right to say that too many SMEs have simply been frozen out of the process. We are determined to open that up and to enable more SMEs, which will tend to be UK-based, to bid successfully.

T9. I welcome the Minister’s wise decision to accept a bid from the Hastings Trust and other charities to the social action fund to build community volunteers and to promote the big society in Hastings. May I urge him to visit us in Hastings, to see the good work that is being done? (94043)

The allure of a visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency is hard to resist. I can undertake that I or my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), the Minister for civil society, will fulfil that engagement.