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Cabinet Office

Volume 558: debated on Wednesday 6 February 2013

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Civil Society Organisations (Financial Support)

1. How much financial support the Government gave to civil society organisations in (a) 2009-10 and (b) 2012-13 to date. (141649)

It is estimated that the Government committed £13.9 billion to general charities in 2009-10. As the hon. Gentleman will know, data for 2012-13 are not yet available.

Thousands of people in every one of our constituencies depend on the services provided by voluntary bodies. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations estimates that funding for the sector will fall by £3.2 billion during the current Parliament, while the Charities Aid Foundation says that private giving to charities has fallen by 20%. The big society is shrinking. How are the Government going to give it the resources it needs to provide services for our constituents?

The Government are doing a great deal to support our charities. We are encouraging giving, volunteering and social investment, and we are trying to make it easier for charities to help us to deliver public services. There is less money around as a direct consequence of the actions, and the fiscal incontinence, of the Government whom the hon. Gentleman did not adorn. We all have a role and a responsibility to support our charities, but this Government are doing their bit.

That very same research by the Charities Aid Foundation clearly showed that 85% of respondents were concerned about the future financial viability of charitable giving. In view of the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley), may I ask why he does not share those concerns?

I do not need any lectures from Labour Members about the extent of the pressure that the charitable sector is under. At a time when resources are very constrained, the Treasury has introduced new tax incentives for giving, including the gift aid small donations scheme. Between them, those incentives will be worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the sector during the current Parliament. We are providing match funding for giving, and investing in new and innovative ways of encouraging it. The Government are showing a great deal of creativity in trying to connect people with the chance to give to and support charities in their communities.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Kent Air Ambulance, the Pilgrims Hospice in Canterbury and homelessness charities such as Porchlight and Catching Lives demonstrate that there is a healthy sector in Kent? Does he also agree that the most successful elements of the charitable sector are those that raise the bulk of the funds themselves—with some help from the state—rather than the client organisations whose number increased under the last Government?

My hon. Friend, who is a tireless supporter of charities in his constituency, has raised an important point. It is worth reminding the House that 75% of charities receive no income at all from the state, and that 80% of the public funding that goes to charities goes to organisations with incomes of more than £1 million. We are actively trying to encourage more charities to live within their means and raise their own money by promoting the kind of giving that I mentioned earlier.

Voluntary and Community Sector

The Government are doing a great deal in trying to increase the capacity and capability of the sector. One of the most important things that we have done is launch the world’s first social investment institution, Big Society Capital, which will have £600 million on its balance sheet. That will enable it to increase the social investment market and make it easier for charities and social enterprises to gain access to capital.

Will my hon. Friend congratulate the newly formed Wymering Manor Trust in my constituency on securing the manor as a community asset? In stark contrast to the smooth running of that transfer, the obstacles that the community have encountered in trying to buy out Portsmouth football club, and the culture that they have encountered in the world of football, have been dreadful. What more can be done to help fans to own and govern their local clubs, and to stop football being a big society-free zone?

I am delighted to congratulate the trust, not least because I understand that it is chaired by Conservatives. Let me also wish the supporters of Portsmouth football club well in their endeavours. The Government are trying to help communities to realise their dreams, and if there is anything that our Department or Big Society Capital can do to support that community, my hon. Friend must let me know.

I think that there is a different story. I visited the office of Fairplay in Derbyshire the other Friday and met the people there who look after, for instance, disabled teenagers. I have also visited various other voluntary organisations. Their story is that they are being cut left, right and centre, and are having a job making ends meet. When will the Government support the voluntary workers who are trying to rescue those people, and to help all kinds of individuals? This really has reached a chronic stage. Get something done!

We are doing a great deal. I totally accept what the hon. Gentleman says: there is a lot of pressure on charities in all our constituencies. We all know that there is less money around, but I would like to hear a little more honesty and recognition from the Opposition Benches as to why the cuts in public expenditure are necessary. They are the direct result of the fiscal incontinence of the hon. Gentleman’s party’s Government.

As the Minister reflects on the capacity of the voluntary sector, he will surely consider in particular the capacity of the Charity Commission—which has been cut by a third on his watch—to prevent charities such as Cup Trust from being used for huge levels of tax avoidance. Is the Minister convinced that the new head of the commission understands the seriousness of the situation, and is a cross-Government plan now in place to prevent such a repeat?

Yes. Under this Government, we have sent a very clear message to the Charity Commission that we expect it to hunker down on its core responsibility of regulating the sector and protecting its integrity, and, under the new chairman, we expect that to happen.

Tax Avoidance (Government Contracts)

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on ensuring that companies in receipt of Government contracts do not engage in tax avoidance schemes. (141652)

In the autumn statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced that the Cabinet Office and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs would examine how the procurement process can be used to deter tax avoidance and evasion. I expect an announcement to be made on this matter shortly with a view to new arrangements coming into effect from 1 April.

That is very welcome news, and I hope that friends of the Cabinet Office will be able to make sure that the Chancellor announces in the Budget that we will end once and for all the possibility of taxpayers’ money funding people to avoid paying their corporate taxes. That has to end at both national level and local government contract level.

I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. Our primary concern in public procurement is value for the taxpayer, but it is entirely legitimate to be concerned about ensuring that companies that are—rightly—profiting from Government contracts should be paying the proper amount of tax.

Is not the answer simply to put out a message to all companies that if they do not pay their taxes they will not get the contract?

I do not recall this ever being addressed by the previous Government. We have inherited very large numbers of extremely costly contracts where nobody has taken any interest in this subject at all.

Information Technology Management

4. What plans he has to achieve greater value for money from the Government’s management of information technology. (141653)

Days after the coalition Government came to office, we introduced strict controls on ICT spend that saved the taxpayer £316 million last year alone, a figure verified by the National Audit Office. We have opened up procurement to small and medium-sized enterprises, we are moving towards open standards and interoperability, and we are reopening some of the incredibly expensive and burdensome ICT contracts that we inherited from the previous Government, with a view to making significant further savings. There is much more that can be done, and much more that we will do.

I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome those actions. I also thank him for visiting Ark Continuity in my constituency, a company whose data centres make cloud computing possible. There are myriad data centres in local and national Government and in the wider public sector, and there are huge savings to be made. Will the Minister target this area in searching for ways to save the taxpayer money?

I enjoyed my visit with my hon. Friend to Ark Continuity. It was very illuminating. There is a huge amount we can do. Data centre capacity across Government is massively underused. A huge amount of overcapacity was left in place by the outgoing Government, who had no interest in these subjects at all. We are getting to grips with it, however. We need to do more, and we will do so; there is much more money we can save.

The fact is that the NAO did not verify the savings. According to the NAO, the Department overstated its claimed IT savings probably by tens of millions of pounds. The Minister has form on this: he predicted £20 billion of savings from his quango review, but the NAO showed he barely saved a tenth of that. Perhaps the Department should propose a new ministerial baccalaureate in adding up and taking away. Since the Minister cannot get his figures right, will he now at least agree to brush up on his maths?

The hon. Gentleman is talking total nonsense. We inherited a massive Budget deficit left by a Government who were fiscally incontinent and made no effort to deliver any efficiency savings whatsoever. Through our efficiency programme, we have already delivered £12 billion of savings and there is much more that can be done. The outgoing Government left the public finances and Whitehall efficiency in a shockingly sorry state.

Cyber-security Partnership

On 25 January, the Foreign Secretary signed the World Economic Forum’s new set of principles on cyber-resilience. The UK was the first country to join that cyber-security partnership, alongside more than 70 companies and Government bodies across 15 sectors and 25 countries. That is an important step in demonstrating our leadership role on the international stage in combating cyber-threats.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Has she seen the recent report by Lancaster university, which is a centre of excellence in cyber-security and she is more than welcome to visit? The report highlighted the lack of investment by so many small businesses in even the simplest systems to protect their IT systems.

I very much welcome Lancaster university’s report, which I have seen. It does show the university’s place as an academic centre of excellence for cyber-security. That research gives us valuable insights into how business is responding. I understand that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will be supporting a further small and medium-sized enterprise conference with Lancaster university. The Government are bringing forward a cross-government cyber-security awareness campaign, which is aimed at SMEs. I ought to quote from the report, because I agree with its statement that small businesses should be able to

“embrace technology and prosper without exposing themselves to unwanted business risks.”

Cyber-security should be a growth area for UK industry. Will my hon. Friend tell the House what she is doing to help promote cyber-security for the UK industrial sector?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about this. When we published the cyber-security strategy we made it clear that there are important opportunities for UK businesses. Our country has long-standing expertise in cyber-security, which makes us well placed to capitalise on the commercial opportunities on offer, both domestically and overseas. I can confirm to him that we have put in place measures to help promote UK products abroad, particularly through setting up a cyber-growth partnership.

If only the Minister’s warm words on international partnerships were matched by her Government’s actions. In October, the Home Secretary announced that the UK would opt out of cross-border co-operation on tackling crime—cybercrime is, of course, predominantly cross-border in nature. Will the Minister confirm that position? Specifically, will we be part of the new European cybercrime centre, or are her Government more obsessed with damaging Europe than strengthening our cyber-security?

First, I welcome the hon. Lady to her place in the Opposition Front-Bench team, although I hope that the Labour party has updated its website, as I do not believe its cyber-skills showed her in her correct place at the time she asked that question. Of course, I can offer my reassurance that the UK Government are doing all they can on tackling cybercrime, where there is much to be done. There is also much to be done in Europe.

In developing the cyber-security strategy, will the Minister consider forming a civilian cyber-security reserve, so that people working in the IT security sector can back-fill those positions that are very specialist and where the work perhaps cannot be carried out by the Ministry of Defence?

My hon. Friend makes correct points about the need to ensure that we have robust skills across both the public and private sectors in respect of cyber-security. There is much to do to build our country’s capability. He will know that the MOD is taking forward the development of a cyber-reserve, and he makes sensible points about a civilian version.

Contracts Finder Website

The Prime Minister launched Contracts Finder two years ago to make Government procurement opportunities more accessible for small and medium-sized enterprises. That is precisely what that site does.

I thank the Minister for her reply and her letter, which I received this morning in reply to my question to her and her colleagues last September about the number of contracts with Atos. We know that the Government have about £3 billion-worth of contracts with Atos and in her answer she referred me to the Contracts Finder website, but a significant number of contracts were not on that site. Now that she has provided those details, will she tell me why the Cabinet Office does not include contracts renewed since 1 January 2011 given that they are renewed and extended by her Department?

Of the contracts identified in response to the hon. Gentleman’s inquiries, only seven are required to be on Contracts Finder and each of them is there. We are publishing more contract opportunities and more contract information than ever before and we are seeing an increase in the amount of business going to SMEs. Contracts Finder was designed to help suppliers, particularly SMEs, to find contract opportunities, whereas the hon. Gentleman’s Government did nothing on that in 13 years.

The Minister has just referred to what happened three years ago. Has she had an opportunity to assess why small businesses were winning such a small share of Government procurement contracts when the Government came to power?

We are absolutely serious about opening up Government business to SMEs, and it is a shame that the previous Administration appeared not to be. We have made progress: we have posted information about the opportunities, as I said in response to the previous question; we have removed bureaucratic pre-qualification processes; we have given SMEs a voice at the top table; and we have made Government more accountable through the mystery shopper service. My hon. Friend knows that it is a shame that the previous Government did not do any of those things.

Civil Service Pensions

7. What estimate he has made of the potential savings to the Exchequer from the Government’s proposed reforms to civil service pensions. [R] (141659)

The Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated that this Government’s reforms of public service pensions will deliver more than £430 billion of savings over the next 50 years.

The Minister’s answer is good news for taxpayers, who include many of the 13 million people in this country without a pension at all, but it is also important that public sector workers receive a good pension. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the revised structure is still a defined benefit one and that it is fairer to part-time workers, who are often women, and to lower-paid workers?

Public sector pensions, after the reforms are fully in place, will remain among the very best available. That is right and we are strongly in support of it, but the cost was out of control. It is now back under control.

What discussions are the Government having with trade unions representing civil servants to ensure the smoothest possible transition?

We have regular discussions at official and ministerial level with the civil service unions, which, for the most part, have adopted a constructive approach and want the change to be introduced as smoothly as possible. Those discussions continue.

National Citizen Service

I am delighted to say that we think that almost three times more young people took part in NCS this year and I hope that the whole House will join me in congratulating those young people, who between them contributed some 750,000 hours of community service in their local areas. The number will grow again this year and teenagers can sign up at

In an era when young people must take every advantage to give themselves a competitive edge, does my hon. Friend agree that the NCS furnishes graduates with the skills that will attract future employers?

Yes, I do. Young people and employers are telling us that. They recognise that the NCS helps young people develop the character skills, leadership, communication, teamwork and self-confidence that will help them succeed in the workplace. That is why we are so proud to support it.

Does the Minister agree that the NCS ought to go hand in hand with paying attention to first-class citizenship in our schools? Is he aware that citizenship in schools has been run down to almost nothing?

That is under review by the Department for Education, but I stress that NCS and programmes like it complement what is going on in schools to build the confidence of young people and change how they feel about what they achieve. They are enormously valuable.

10. I was delighted to attend Royds Hall school last year to see dozens of youngsters who had been inspired to sign up for the National Citizen Service. Can the Minister assure me that this fantastic scheme will be rolled out not only across my constituency, but across the rest of the country this year? (141662)

My hon. Friend is a tireless champion of NCS in his area, and I am delighted that we will shortly announce plans to expand the service this year. It will expand considerably in his constituency and other areas, and I encourage colleagues to tell parents and young people about it, and to direct young people to the website,

Topical Questions

My responsibilities as Minister for the Cabinet Office are for the public sector Efficiency and Reform Group for civil service issues; industrial relations strategy and the public sector; Government transparency; civil contingencies; civil society; and cyber-security.

The Government expect to increase debt by £212 billion more than they originally predicted, and our youth services are being cut to the bone. Study after study has shown, however, that the National Citizen Service, worthy as it is, has reached a tiny number of children. Is it not time that the Government either reformed the NCS to ensure that it provides better value for money or changed it altogether?

It ill behoves the hon. Gentleman to lecture this Government about debt and deficit, given the state of the public finances when his Government left office; there was reckless incontinence. The National Citizen Service, which we expect to expand, provides an incredibly valuable experience for growing numbers of young people, and I would be grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support for it.

T2. To the coalition Government’s great credit, four months ago they started to tackle the scandal of civil servants being given paid time off to do trade union work. The TaxPayers Alliance has worked out that that costs £90 million a year. How many savings so far have the Government made on that £90 million? (141665)

One of the difficulties is that under the previous Government no one even monitored how much time was spent on trade union activities and duties. There is a statutory requirement to provide paid time off for trade union duties, but that was roundly abused. We now have in place a proper system of control and monitoring, and the cost will be cut right back.

T3. It is estimated that 71% of over-55s do not have access to the internet at home, so will the Minister explain exactly what support has been put in place to enable them to access Government services for which it is compulsory to apply online? (141666)

The hon. Lady will know that we have in place an assisted digital strategy, so that as we roll out our digital by default approach, which will provide services on a much more convenient basis for the citizen at much lower cost to the taxpayer, there will always be available a place where people can go so that the digital transaction can be carried out with the support of someone to help the citizen. [Interruption.]

Order. It would be helpful if the House listened to the questions and, indeed, to Ministers’ answers.

T7. Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) about small and medium-sized enterprise procurement, does the Minister agree that it is not just a question of giving contracts to small firms but that it is essential that the public sector pays its bills on time? (141670)

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right: not only are hundreds of contract opportunities being made available for SMEs, but the Government are a fair payment champion, recognised by external bodies for their behaviour, just as he said.

T4. Research published by the Charities Aid Foundation found that one in six charities feared having to close this year, putting at risk the services on which many vulnerable people rely. Will the Minister tell the House what action the Government are taking to prevent charities from going to the wall? (141667)

The Government are doing a great deal to encourage giving in this country. The Treasury has introduced new tax incentives for giving, and is working hard to make gift aid work better for the charity sector. The small donation scheme is looking at how gift aid can work with digital giving, and we are looking at how we can make payroll giving work much more effectively. Across a range of areas, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office are working hard to make sure that charities get the support that they need in these difficult times.

T9. What monitoring arrangements for taxpayer-funded trade union representatives did my right hon. Friend discover after the general election, and what is his policy on this matter? (141672)

Rather surprisingly, we found no arrangements whatever in place for monitoring the cost to the taxpayer of paid time off for trade union representatives. It had been allowed to spiral completely out of control under the previous Government and we are at long last bringing it under control.

T5. The Cabinet Office seems to have left out its responsibility for the Office for National Statistics when it listed its responsibilities. When it is clear that the country is facing a major problem of addictive gambling, why have the Government not carried out the gambling prevalence survey provided for in the Gambling Act 2005, so we do not know how much addictive gambling there is in the country? (141668)

As the hon. Gentleman ought to know, the Office for National Statistics is a non-ministerial Government department, which has statutory independence from Ministers.

T10. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Cabinet Office keeps a proper record of all the circumstances in which collective ministerial responsibility is set aside, so that we can have some transparency in relation to that process? (141673)