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Topical Questions

Volume 574: debated on Wednesday 29 January 2014

My responsibilities are for the public sector Efficiency and Reform Group, civil service issues, the industrial relations strategy in the public sector, Government transparency, civil contingency, civil society and cyber-security. [Interruption.]

Order. There is still rather a lot of noise in the House. What is required is an air of respectful expectation for Karen Lumley.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Does my right hon. Friend the Minister share my concern at the reports that a trade union is threatening to use so-called leverage tactics against our NHS staff? Can he confirm that those allegations fall within the scope of our review of trade union activities?

I share my hon. Friend’s concerns at those suggestions. It is appalling that hard-working staff in our NHS should be subjected to the threat of such bullying and intimidation. I can confirm that the review that we are establishing will be fully empowered to investigate those suggestions.

In light of the newly released Cabinet papers about the 1984 miners’ strike, and given the continued sense of injustice that prevails across the coalfields, will the Minister agree to publish all the documents and the communication between the then Government and the police at the time of the strike; to a full investigation into the events surrounding Orgreave ahead of the 30th anniversary; and to make a formal apology for the actions of the then Government? Does he agree that it is only through full transparency and reconciliation that we will finally see justice for the coalfields?

The documents will be released in the usual way under the law that was passed under the last Government. I was representing a coal mining constituency during the miners’ strike and saw at first hand the violence, intimidation and divided communities in a dispute that took place without a proper national ballot being held. The hon. Gentleman asks for an apology—no.

T5. As well as reversing the previous Labour council’s cuts to youth services and taking trade union money and putting it into apprenticeships, North Lincolnshire’s Conservative council has adopted dynamic purchasing systems such as e-tendering to support local businesses. Are the Government evaluating the benefit of such systems to the wider public sector? If so, will the Minister look at the North Lincolnshire examples? (902267)

There is huge scope for councils to give more business to smaller businesses, and my hon. Friend gives a good example that many more local authorities should copy.

T2. Sunderland has a great record on technology start-ups, but these small companies still find it difficult to compete and bid for Government work. What more can the Minister do across Government to support this growing industry in the north-east? (902264)

We can do more, and we are already doing much more than was previously the case. The amount of Government business going to small businesses, both directly and indirectly, has risen to nearly 20%. I am afraid that the last Government were not even measuring how much went to smaller businesses. There is much more that we can do. We have streamlined the procurement processes, which previously seemed almost deliberately to exclude small businesses from being able to bid. [Interruption.]

The Minister has ploughed on, to his credit, but it has been difficult for him to be heard. His words should be heard, and I hope that there will be some courtesy from Members.

T6. I welcome the Minister’s offering IT procurement to small and medium-sized enterprises through the G-Cloud. Is he aware of a local constituency company called The Bunker secure hostings, which offers data for SMEs to access G-Gloud? (902268)

I am glad that G-Cloud, which we set up, now has 800 suppliers on it, two thirds of which are SMEs, and that an increasing amount of business is being awarded through it. I hope that the business in my hon. Friend’s constituency will be successful in winning business through that innovative way of enabling the purchase of IT services.

T3. Last week, the Information Commissioner said that there were “serious shortcomings” in the Cabinet Office’s handling of freedom of information requests and called the Department’s poor performance “particularly disappointing”. Why is the Minister setting such a bad example, given that his Department is supposed to lead on openness and transparency across Government? (902265)

It will be clear to the hon. Lady that the Cabinet Office deals with some of the most complex and difficult freedom of information requests, a lot of them involving previous Government papers, for which a long consultation process has to be entered into before any decision can be made. The situation will be better in some quarters than others, but in general our record is good.

T8. Given that a fifth of Government procurement spend now goes to SMEs, will the Minister redouble his efforts so that these engines of growth further boost our long-term economic plan? (902270)

We have made massive progress. Under the previous Government there was no attempt even to measure how much business was going to SMEs, but we are now measuring that and improving it. We have cut out a lot of the bureaucratic nonsense that often prevented small businesses from even being able to bid for business, let alone win it. The result of that, as my hon. Friend says, is that nearly one fifth of Government business goes to SMEs one way or another. It is our ambition for that to rise to 25%, and I am optimistic we can achieve that.