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Cabinet Office

Volume 579: debated on Wednesday 30 April 2014

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Big Society

We have given communities more power through the Localism Act 2011. We have invested in volunteering, which has risen after years of decline. We have invested to support charitable giving, which has held up in difficult times. Some 70,000 young people have taken part in the National Citizen Service. I am very proud that this country leads the world in supporting social enterprise and investment.

That is not a situation I recognise in Hyndburn, I have to say. Archbishop Vincent Nichols recently said:

“The Big Society hasn’t helped… Charity isn’t an alternative to public service… there are now families with nothing”.

Will the Minister finally admit that the big society project is in fact a big failure?

No, I will not. I think the cynics have got it entirely wrong. Some of the changes we have introduced are irreversible, not least in terms of giving communities more power and information, which they are not going to give back. We recognise that charities are going through a very difficult time, like lots of organisations, but this Government are actively supporting them to help them to adapt and improve their resilience, while Labour MPs continue to scaremonger.

I thank my hon. Friend for her long-standing support for the National Citizen Service and all initiatives to encourage young people to get involved in volunteering. We are enormously ambitious for the National Citizen Service this year. As I have said, to date over 70,000 young people have taken part, and we expect the same number to take part this year alone.

Will the Minister explain why the newly announced £40 million fund to help struggling charities will only come into force in 2015? Many charities are saying that they will not survive another six months because of this Government’s policies. Is this not a case of too little, too late?

No, I do not accept that. The hon. Lady ignores the fact that the Government have already provided almost £200 million in transition funding for front-line charities and infrastructure organisations to help them through difficult times. We have managed to secure some additional money in the 2015-16 Budget to support more transition work, particularly for middle-sized charities, which we think is needed. She is ignoring all the help we have given so far.

Our country once enjoyed a rich and vibrant tapestry of organisations between charity and the state, such as co-operatives, friendly societies and other mutuals. Does the Minister share my dismay that the left has abandoned its own traditions?

Those are not of course the only traditions that the left has abandoned over the years; it is very hard to see what is left. I am very proud that Government Members are leading the work to encourage more mutualisation, particularly in relation to encouraging people to spin out the services they currently offer inside the public sector, and to offer them and improve them as public sector mutuals.

Civil Service (Outsourcing)

In common with the previous Government, which the hon. Gentleman supported from time to time, the current Government do not have a dogmatic view on outsourcing, either in favour of it or against it.

For the past 10 years, shared services has been one of the major job successes in providing more than 1,000 decent jobs in my constituency, at great value to the taxpayer. Why is the Minister trying to wreck a winning team?

We are actually seeking to build on what is good. It is now 10 years since Sir Peter Gershon, under the previous Government, proposed a fast move towards genuinely shared services. That did not happen for eight years. Since 2012, we have made significant progress in genuinely creating a handful of shared service centres for Government. They are building on the shared service centre in Swansea and others. If we create genuinely successful, highly efficient organisations there, they have every opportunity of winning other business and therefore of creating new jobs and new prosperity in those areas.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the revelations in the Liverpool Echo last week that Government computers were used to access and change Wikipedia pages relating to Hillsborough. What action is he taking to investigate those accusations and to prevent misuse of Government computers, whether they are outsourced or not?

Everyone in the House will have been horrified and sickened by those edits on Wikipedia. I have been in close, daily contact with the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who has a highly deserved reputation as a campaigner for the Hillsborough families, and the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on the Hillsborough disaster. We are undertaking a rapid investigation, which is being led by my excellent permanent secretary, Richard Heaton. The first stage is to establish the facts as best we can and we will then deal with the matter. If this horrible issue is prolonged and there is no closure, it will be very unsatisfactory and distressing for the families, particularly at this time, when the events are fresh in their minds.

12. Some 239 civil service jobs that have been outsourced to Shared Services Connected Ltd are being lost in my constituency. The people who may lose their jobs were presented with a new staff structure just a week ago, were given only until today to decide on voluntary redundancy and are not being given proper opportunities for redeployment. Will the Minister press SSCL, which is part-owned by the Government, to extend the voluntary redundancy deadline, and will he ensure that all Departments offer opportunities for redeployment? (903761)

I shall certainly look at the last point that the hon. Gentleman made. Nobody takes any pleasure in job losses. We have had to lose jobs in the public sector. The civil service is 17% smaller than in 2010 because, sadly, we inherited the biggest budget deficit in the developed world. We have to make economies and do things better. I hope that the new venture, SSCL, will emerge as a vibrant business in the private sector that can win more business and thereby create more jobs. However, it does need to restructure to begin with.

What proportion of civil service jobs was outsourced at the start of this Parliament in 2010 and what proportion will be outsourced at the end of it in 2015?

That is a very good question. It is difficult to be precise because when business is outsourced to the private sector, it is hard to know which of the jobs in a business that provides services to Government and to other organisations relate to Government business. It is therefore hard to know what the baseline is. A larger number of activities will be carried out outside the public sector, many of them through the spin-outs of public service mutuals, which are a way of delivering much greater job satisfaction—

Order. I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. He is plodding on to the best of his ability, but I say to him politely that perhaps he could write to his hon. Friend and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister boasted in a speech in Davos that under his Government

“there is a chance for Britain to become the ‘Re-Shore Nation’.”

However, the chief executive of Steria has said that offshoring jobs is “on the agenda” for outsourced civil servants working for Shared Services Connected Ltd, in which the Government retain a 25% stake. Does the Minister share my concern that up to 1,000 jobs might be offshored? Will the Government use their stake in the joint venture to argue that those jobs should be kept in the UK?

We will take the same approach as the Government the hon. Gentleman supported—I think he was an adviser to the last Government—when they set up NHS Shared Business Services, which is also a joint venture with Steria. A number of jobs were offshored, but Britain has benefited because that entity has also created more jobs in the UK. We take the same approach as his Government took.

I will cheerfully take up your sensible suggestion, Mr Speaker, of writing to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone).

Social Finance

I am proud that Britain leads the world in developing social investment. The hon. Gentleman is a tireless champion of its power to support early intervention. A new tax relief has gone live this month. There are now 15 social impact bonds in operation. I hope that he will welcome our announcement today of two more funds to support social impact bonds, which we believe will generate better outcomes for young people who are at risk of not being in education, employment or training.

There is an important judgment from the European Court of Justice today on the Robin Hood tax, which will have a big influence on civil society and the big society. However, that will be minuscule compared with the potential impact of a serious social impact bond market on early intervention, which the Minister mentioned, and on council projects. It is two years since Big Society Capital was established, so is it not time to review the working of the Act that set it up to see whether we can take it further?

I am very proud of Big Society Capital as an institution. I have seen the impact that its investments are having on the ground. It has committed £149 million and has done important work to build this important market. It is just two years in and is about to publish its second annual report. We are always looking to ensure that it succeeds. I am more than happy to pass that question on to the Big Society Trust, which is its governing body, and get its response.

Are not credit unions a great example of social finance, and is it good news that there are now 500 of them in this country, not least a new one in Plymstock in my constituency? More than 1 million Brits are now members of a credit union. Are the Government pleased about that?

Credit unions are an enormously important part of the landscape in communities around the country, and many do extraordinarily valuable work. We are looking at the degree to which we can support their capitalisation. They are fragmented and under-capitalised, and we are discussing with Big Society Capital, and others, what ideas are out there for using the power of social investment to strengthen the capitalisation of that important movement.

I was the Minister who got going the first social impact bond at Peterborough. Would the Minister like to say what the experience of that first experiment has been?

I wholly acknowledge the role that the right hon. Gentleman played in that groundbreaking social impact bond at Peterborough. Its early results are extremely encouraging, and reoffending among short-sentence prisoners who receive support through the bond has fallen by 11%, while nationally that figure has risen by 10%. It was the first ice-breaking social impact bond, and I think its impact on the wider movement and the work happening across the country, with at least 15 social impact bonds live, cannot be overestimated.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we all need to do more to make voluntary organisations and charities aware of the benefits of the growing social investment market of Big Society Capital, and of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012?

I wholly agree and I am clear about what we are trying to do. Over time—it will take some time—we are trying to build a third pillar of funding for our social sector to sit alongside philanthropy and the public sector, and we lead the world in doing that. The Public Services (Social Value) Act was groundbreaking legislation that requires commissioners to think very seriously about how they can maximise the social and environmental benefit of every pound of public money they spend.


In 2011 we launched the national cyber-security programme, which was the first centrally co-ordinated programme of cyber-security funding by the Government. Up to 2016 we are investing some £860 million in overall cyber-security funding, as a tier 1 national security priority.

The Home Affairs Committee is concerned that there appears to be a black hole where low-level e-crime is committed with impunity, and we know that is costing businesses £800 million a year. What is the Minister’s assessment of whether the move to IPv6 will help, and what he is doing to make that happen?

The majority of cyber-attacks and cybercrime can be prevented by basic internet hygiene, and by individuals and businesses ensuring that their cyber-security and internet protection is up to date and that all the latest patches are installed. We estimate that something like 80% of attacks can be prevented by that. The level of awareness is much higher than it was, but we have some way to go.

Given the amount of money that the Minister said is being and will be spent, what level of co-ordination across Departments is taking place to ensure that cybercrime is, if not eliminated, significantly reduced over the next year?

We are doing much more to co-ordinate than has ever been done before, and last month I launched CERT UK, which includes the cyber-security information sharing partnership that some 400 companies now belong to. The sharing of information, which was very inhibited before, is now taking place to a much greater extent. There is more we need to do, but Britain overall is not in a bad place on that. However, we need to move fast because those who wish to undertake cybercrime and cyber-attacks are moving pretty fast too.

Civil Service (Waste)

The Efficiency and Reform Group was set up after the 2010 general election to tackle wasteful expenditure in the public sector. We have supported Departments in achieving savings in 2010-11 of £3.75 billion, a further £5.5 billion the following year and more than £10 billion in 2012-13. In June we will announce the figures for the year just finished.

I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome the progress to date. With the stronger language requirements for visas introduced by the Home Secretary to promote integration, what scope is there to reduce the high cost of translation across the public sector?

There are some central contracts and some scope for us to do this much better, although we need to be confident about quality. Through the Crown Commercial Service we can now aggregate demand to a much greater extent, but what we do not want to do is exclude smaller translation companies from this market as they can often provide a much more cost-effective service. The issue is kept under constant review, and there is definitely scope for further savings.

9. Will the Minister tell the House what progress has been made on commercial reform in the civil service to make it more savvy in its dealings with the private sector, to get a better deal for the taxpayer? (903758)

We are reforming the way we do that. We identified a lack of commercial capability in Government and we are acting to remedy that, although there is still some way to go. The Government have been a very bad customer: we should be the best customer suppliers have, because we have scale and good credit and we pay quickly. We need to use that scale to get the best pricing, and we were not doing that. We have saved hundreds of millions of pounds by doing much better and by dealing with our biggest suppliers as a single customer, but there is much more that we still need to do.


We have created hundreds of thousands of new volunteering opportunities, not least through the National Citizen Service. We have invested in the important infrastructure that supports volunteering and we have reformed barriers such as Criminal Records Bureau checks. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that volunteering has risen after years of decline.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Margaret Hayes, who recently worked her final shift after 31 years of volunteering to support patients at Barnsley hospital? Volunteers such as Margaret make a much valued contribution to our society, and it is welcome that the number of volunteers is increasing. What more can the Minister do to encourage volunteering among people of all ages and backgrounds around the whole country?

I wholly support that vision. It is massively important to the country. I join the hon. Gentleman in recognising the work of that extraordinary individual and remind him that the Prime Minister has launched a new initiative that will announce daily the Points of Light awards to reward outstanding volunteers. I ask Members of Parliament on both sides of the House to think about nominating individuals in their constituencies for that award.

One way in which we can encourage volunteering is to thank those volunteers who work hard. Will the Minister join me in thanking the volunteers in my constituency at the play and resource centre PARC, Braintree Foyer, the Archer centre and Rethink Mencap? Does he agree that it is the volunteers who work for the various charities and community groups in all our constituencies who form the backbone of our society and deserve our collective thanks?

I wholly endorse that and join my hon. Friend in his recognition of and congratulations to his local volunteers. Few Governments have done more to actively encourage volunteering, and I reiterate my encouragement to colleagues to step forward and nominate individuals for the Points of Light awards.

Civil Service

I very much support the Minister’s efforts to reduce costs and increase efficiency in the civil service. Can I tempt him to go further on this particular issue and completely rule out the transfer overseas of any jobs currently undertaken by civil servants in the UK, which I believe would be a step too far?

I hear what my hon. Friend says, but I reiterate what I said earlier. The approach we take is the same as the last Government: we need to be efficient and jobs should be undertaken in the place where they can best be done. Normally that will be in Britain, and the more efficient we are, the more jobs we will create in Britain.

Topical Questions

My responsibilities are for the public sector efficiency and reform group, civil service issues, industrial relations in the public sector, Government transparency, civil contingency, civil society and cyber-security.

Contrary to responses earlier, it was recently reported that the Cabinet Office has spent £30 million on staff redundancy packages and another £30 million to plug the gap created by hiring agency staff. Given that the Cabinet Office is supposed to be responsible for efficiency savings, why has the Minister wasted so much money?

I think the hon. Gentleman may be a little confused. There is no correlation between jobs lost and jobs replaced. We need to have the skills in the civil service to do what needs to be done to serve Britain today so that we can win in a very competitive world. That means that some jobs become redundant, but some new capabilities are needed. No Government or organisation I have ever come across think that they sit in a steady state and never recruit new people. [Interruption.]

Order. I can scarcely hear the mellifluous tones of the Minister. There are far too many noisy private conversations taking place in the Chamber. I am sure that both the House and the nation will wish to hear Mr Philip Davies.

T3. In 2011-12, the TaxPayers Alliance found that trade unions received a subsidy from taxpayers of £113 million a year through direct grants and facility time. Does the Minister agree that any part-time or full-time union work should be paid by the unions rather than the taxpayer? Will he update the House on the progress made to reduce that unnecessary cost to the taxpayer? (903775)

We have made considerable progress. In the civil service alone, some £30 million of taxpayers’ money was being spent on subsidising union representation. That is perfectly proper if duties relate to employment, but this was going way, way beyond. We have reduced significantly the number of full-time representatives. There were 250 in central Government. That is now down by nearly 170.

Following the launch of Labour’s digital government review, which is focused on empowering people, and after four years of this “digital by default” Government, with 16 million UK citizens lacking basic digital skills, the Minister has finally announced a digital inclusion strategy. The digitally excluded are vulnerable to cybercrime, but are punished by this Government for not using their digital services. Will the Minister explain why his inclusion strategy excludes 7 million of our fellow citizens from the digital future?

I am sorry that the hon. Lady takes that view. For one digital service that we provide—the lasting power of attorney—the assisted digital for those who are not online is provided by a number of groups that specifically help elderly people. Where there is a digital service, we are insistent that there is an assisted digital service for those who are not currently online. We want to do much more to increase digital inclusion, so that more people are online.

T5. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress that has been made in reducing the running costs of the Government estate? (903777)

We have made very considerable reductions. No leases can be signed anywhere in Government, nor any break point passed, without my agreement. That has enabled us to reduce significantly the amount of property occupied by central Government. We also have a big programme that is making significant progress in co-locating all parts of the public sector in one place in more and more towns around the country.

T2. As the Minister responsible for propriety in Government communications, was the Cabinet Secretary consulted on the Prime Minister’s recent letter to 2 million people, which used language borrowed directly from the Conservative party’s website? How much did that cost? (903774)

It is perfectly proper for Government Ministers to use the same language in Government communications as they use in their political communications. Ministers do not suddenly not become politicians when they speak as Ministers. It is just possible that I may have used today some of the same language as I would use in a purely political environment.

T6. Brilliant social enterprises such as the Oxford student hub propeller project can lead the way in finding innovative solutions to social problems, but they struggle to find sustainable funding. Can the Minister tell me what progress is being made on increasing the availability of social impact bonds, which could make all the difference? (903778)

My hon. Friend is entirely right: we have fantastic social enterprises in this country and they need easier access to capital. This country leads the world in developing social investment. Today we are launching two new funds that will unlock more social impact bonds to deliver what we expect to be better results for thousands of young people at risk of becoming NEET.