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Topical Questions

Volume 579: debated on Wednesday 30 April 2014

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.