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Topical Questions

Volume 564: debated on Wednesday 19 June 2013

My departmental responsibilities include responsibility for public service efficiency and reform groups, civil service issues, industrial relations strategy in the public sector, transparency, civil contingencies, civil society and cyber-security.

What steps will my right hon. Friend take to accelerate the pace of efficiency savings in Whitehall, and what further action will he take to slice out the accumulated waste of the previous Government?

I was able to announce a couple of weeks ago that in the last financial year, 2012-13, we made over £10 billion of efficiency savings. It is a pity that it has taken so long to get on with this. If the present Leader of the Opposition had started on the process when he was in my position, the country’s public finances would now be in a much better state.

The single biggest source of new social finance for charities and social enterprises would be a UK community investment Act that required banks to lend into areas that they are not currently lending into. Why are the Government blocking such reforms?

I think that is the first Labour policy announcement I have heard in three years. In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, this country is the acknowledged world leader in developing a new source of finance for social organisations. It is called social investment, and it was the subject of a special meeting of the G8 this week, at which everyone stood up and said that Britain was recognised as a world leader in this regard, not least because of our creation of big society capital, which has £600 million on its balance sheet, to make it easier for charities and social enterprises to access capital.

T2. Too often, Government Departments exist in their own silos and fail to share services and skills. What steps is the Minister taking to address that and to ensure that that silo mentality stops? (160390)

Way back in 2004, Sir Peter Gershon recommended the introduction of shared services to try to break down that silo mentality and to make efficiency savings. For eight years very little happened, but we are now breaking through and making big progress on legal services, on internal audit and on back-office, transactional, human resources and finance services. There is much more to do, however, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support.

T6. Bolton community and volunteer services have congratulated Bolton council on preserving funding for the voluntary sector, but projects are still at risk owing to rising costs, increasing demand and reduced access to funding. What will the Minister do to save community and voluntary sector projects in Bolton West? (160394)

The hon. Lady should direct her first inquiries to the council, because not all councils are cutting funding to the voluntary sector. She should be aware of the broad national picture, in which volunteering is up, giving is stable and social investment is rising. There is a whole range of Government programmes to support and strengthen civil society and help it to maintain its resilience through this very difficult period.

T3. In 2010, the Smith report suggested that substantial cost savings would result from moving parts of the civil service from London to the regions. It suggested a target of moving 15,000 civil servants by 2015. Will the Minister update us on progress? (160391)

By last year, there were already nearly 12,000 fewer civil servants based in London. Our priority is to exit excess space and we have now exited 1.6 million square feet of office space, but there is much more that we can and will do.

T7. In 2010, cybercrime cost the Welsh economy £974 million. What steps are the Government taking to protect online shoppers and the small and medium-sized businesses that tend to trade online? (160395)

Repeated reports show that the best protection that can be given to individuals, households and businesses is basic online hygiene and safety. We have increased spending on cyber-security at a time of great financial stringency, and we are generally regarded as being well placed in the international rankings on cyber-security, but there is absolutely no room for complacency.

T4. Keighley town council is currently running a £160,000 deficit and has a liability of £1 million. Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no accountable body for town councils and therefore no one to protect taxpayers’ money? Will he look at this issue as a matter of urgency? (160392)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will have taken note of the concern that my hon. Friend raises, but I have always thought that town councils were meant to be accountable to the residents of the town.

T9. Given recent criticism by various organisations of the accuracy of Government statistics, will the Minister advise the House on what steps he is taking to promote trust in Government statistics in future? (160397)

We have appointed as chair of the UK Statistics Authority a very distinguished figure, now Sir Andrew Dilnot, who exercises his task with great rigour, which we welcome.