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Topical Questions

Volume 546: debated on Wednesday 13 June 2012

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

In March, Ministers confirmed in this place that the Department was conducting a review into the long-term funding challenges facing the charity advice sector, as was promised to me by the Prime Minister last October. Will the Minister tell the House and the busy advisers, such as those at Wiltshire’s citizens advice bureau, what conclusions he has reached?

Advice providers, like other parts of the voluntary sector, are facing a difficult funding situation. In the Budget, the Chancellor made £20 million available in each of the next two years to support the not-for-profit advice sector as it adapts. Our transition fund also provides support to 45 CABs and 17 law centres, and the Ministry of Justice is increasing funding for mediation services by £15 million to encourage greater use of mediation in disputes.

Twelve months ago, the Minister for the Cabinet Office gave the Work programme as an example of the big society in action. A year on, some of the charities that signed up originally have gone bust and almost 100 have withdrawn their welfare-to-work expertise from the programme completely. Is this yet another example of the lack of leadership from Cabinet Office Ministers for charities across Whitehall, or can we finally expect some action to sort this mess out?

I do not know from that question whether the hon. Gentleman believes it is right for social enterprises to play a major role in the provision of public services. We do, and more than 500 social enterprises and voluntary organisations are involved in the supply chain. I would have thought that he welcomed that.

Order. Far too many noisy private conversations are taking place in the Chamber. Let us have a bit of order for Nicola Blackwood.

T6. I am sure that the Minister will join me in applauding the work of the Archway Foundation, which for 30 years has been combating loneliness in my constituency. Like many charities, it is struggling increasingly with excessive regulation. What steps is he taking to combat red tape to let charities do what they do best, which is to help those who are most in need in our communities? (110369)

I am delighted to congratulate the Archway Foundation on its work. My hon. Friend is right that there is too much that gets in the way of charities and voluntary organisations in doing their work. That is why we are undertaking what is probably the most comprehensive review of the regulation and legislation that affects the sector.

T2. The Department for Work and Pensions has no right to data. Absurdly, its Ministers have banned Work programme providers from publishing any data on their performance. That is the opposite of this Minister’s open data policy. What is he doing about it? (110365)

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman exactly what we are doing about it: we are following the processes set up by the last Government.

Independent research has shown that more than 8,000 teenagers committed almost 250,000 hours of service to their communities last year, that the customer satisfaction rating among the teenagers who took part was 93%, and that the benefit-cost ratio was 2:1. That was a good start and I encourage all colleagues of all parties to get involved with the NCS in their constituencies this summer. It is a fantastic opportunity for their young constituents.

T3. The Government came to power promising a bonfire of the quangos. Will the Minister confirm, however, that the Health and Social Care Act 2012 creates more quangos than the Public Bodies Act 2011 abolished? (110366)

T9. The Minister for the Cabinet Office must be praised for his efforts in driving forward the open data agenda, through which dusty Government datasets are beginning to provide the jobs and economic growth that the country so desperately needs. What further measures does he have in mind to open up such dusty public sector datasets? (110373)

My hon. Friend has been a formidable, expert and passionate advocate of the open data agenda. Open data are the new raw material and can drive a huge amount of business growth. The Government are already the world leader in opening up data, but there is more to come. [Interruption.]

Order. It is very unfair on the Minister that he is not being heard. He should be heard, as should all Members.

T4. The Government have sold off 250 freeholds of the nation’s buildings and land. If they are going to continue to do that, will the Minister ensure that there is a covenant in the conveyancing to ensure that the public have access to public land? (110367)

I will look at the issue that the hon. Lady raises. If she has particular concerns about property to which public access should be guaranteed and is not, we will no doubt want to consider the matter.