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Topical Questions

Volume 560: debated on Wednesday 20 March 2013

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.

I thank the Paymaster General for his answer. When I talk to voluntary organisations across Leicester, many of those that took part in the future jobs fund tell me that it had a positive impact. Today, we have seen unemployment across Leicester rise again. The chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations recently called the Work programme

“a slow motion car crash”.

When are we going to have a scheme to get our young people back to work that truly harnesses the expertise of the voluntary sector?

It would have been nice to hear the hon. Gentleman celebrating the rise in employment and the fact that since the election 1.25 million new jobs have been created in the private sector. It would be very good if he and his colleagues would occasionally support that.

T2. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the residents of Redditch will not suffer too much today from the strike action by the Public and Commercial Services Union? (148865)

I am happy to be able to tell my hon. Friend that the latest numbers suggest that fewer than 95,000 civil servants went on strike today. The leadership of the PCS, who are not serving their hard-working members at all well, claimed this morning that 250,000 civil servants were on strike. That was simply untrue—it is fewer than 95,000.

On 5 March, Sir George Cox published his independent review into “Overcoming Short-termism within British Business”. The report concluded, among other things, that Cabinet Office-led procurement in the public sector is failing, with long-term strategic issues for the UK Government not a part of Government procurement thinking. When does the Minister plan to put that right?

We inherited a position that was exactly as the hon. Gentleman describes from the Government of whom he was a member. We have already improved matters significantly by publishing forward pipelines in a number of sectors so that British suppliers can tool up to bid effectively. We have cut procurement times and costs dramatically so that it is easier and cheaper for businesses to bid and win that business. It is a very great pity that his Government did not get on and do some of that themselves.

T3. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the big society awards help highlight the important work of community groups, just as the 2012 award did for the Street Angels initiative, which helps make night life safer in Macclesfield and in hundreds of towns and cities across the country? (148866)

I can certainly confirm that the big society awards are there to throw a spotlight on and celebrate outstanding community-led initiatives, such as the Street Angels initiative that has done such good work in Macclesfield and has now spread to more than 70 towns across the UK. I encourage colleagues on both sides of the House to think about nominating community initiatives to the big society awards through the No. 10 website.

Can the Minister explain why his Government have failed to bring forward robust proposals for a statutory register of lobbyists given that the public want one, the lobbying industry wants one and the Government promised one?

An announcement will be made shortly, but it is worth pointing out that the hon. Gentleman’s party was in power for 13 years and did the square root of nothing on this.

T5. What services have been affected by the PCS strike today? Does my right hon. Friend agree that responsibility for the strike lies exclusively with the PCS leadership? (148868)

That is exactly right. I can confirm that there has been minimal impact on public services and that the public will have been inconvenienced to a very small extent by today’s strike. The borders at the airports and ports have been properly manned, queues have been minimal and I am delighted to say that at Birmingham airport alone, there have been significant seizures of illegal drugs to the benefit of protecting the public.

T4. Today’s shambolic, reactionary Budget will put the Labour party another step closer to government. Now that we have a fixed-term Parliament, will the Minister lay out a proper timetable for Opposition access to the civil service so that we can clear the mess up? (148867)

T6. Does my right hon. Friend agree that local trade unions are very much part of the big society? Does he support the vital work of USDAW, which is fighting for fair pay and conditions for Tesco workers whose jobs are under threat following the announcement of the closure of the Tesco depot in Harlow? (148869)

Of course, responsible trade unionism has a proper role to play in Britain’s big society. What we object to is the irresponsible leadership of unions such as Unite, Labour’s biggest donor, which is taking strike action today in support of the wholly unrepresentative PCS leadership, whose sway with its members has fallen to the extent that the turnout in the strike today has been the lowest at any time since the election.

T7. It has been reported that half of charities are planning to cut their work force or expenditure in the next 12 months. What real steps will the Minister take to help those charities to carry out the valuable work that they do throughout our country? (148870)

The hon. Lady will know that, to give one example, my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary is proposing to open up the whole of rehabilitation services so that particularly charitable and voluntary organisations and social enterprises will be able to bid on a payment-by-results basis to win that business. We have created a growing social investment market, supported by big society capital, which will enable those groups to get for the first time access to capital to fund those projects.