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Civil Service (Outsourcing)

Volume 579: debated on Wednesday 30 April 2014

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).