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Topical Questions

Volume 558: debated on Wednesday 6 February 2013

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)