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Topical Questions

Volume 585: debated on Wednesday 10 September 2014

My responsibilities are efficiency and reform, civil service issues, the public sector industrial relations strategy, Government transparency, civil contingencies, civil society and cyber-security.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that statement. Does he agree that, contrary to some suggestions that have been made, the chief executive of the civil service will be best placed to accelerate the pace of reforms in the civil service in this country?

We do believe that the new post will play a vital role in embedding the programme of efficiency reform that we have driven. I appreciate the support of Labour Front Benchers for that approach, so that there will be consistency whatever the result of any election. He—or the new chief executive officer, whether a he or a she—will work closely with the Cabinet Secretary and myself in supporting the performance management of permanent secretaries, but will also line manage the heads of the cross-Government corporate functions. That will increase the focus on driving efficiency.

Last week, the Minister for Civil Society made his first, stunning intervention as the new Minister responsible for charities by saying:

“The important thing charities should be doing is sticking to their knitting”.

When so many charities and people who work for them do such a magnificent job in every part of the country, was that not the most condescending, patronising, inept, out-of-touch and just plain wrong thing for the Minister to say? Will he finally now apologise?


As I have made abundantly clear, charities play an important role in shaping a Government policy, and indeed, with their expertise, they should be doing that. What I made absolutely clear was that charities should not get involved in party politics, because that is the law.

T2. As part of our long-term economic plan, the Government have disposed of more than 1,250 properties since 2010. What is the Minister for the Cabinet Office doing to release more Government properties so that we can reduce costs and become more efficient? (905270)

As I said earlier, we have already reduced our office estate by the huge amount of 2 million square metres since 2010, the equivalent of 26 times the size of Buckingham palace. The strategic land and property review being led by my officials in the Government Property Unit will enable sites worth at least £5 billion, and potentially much more, to be released over the next five or six years.

T3. Small businesses in my constituency have long since given up trying to jump through the hoops that they face in even bidding for Government contracts. They certainly do not recognise the description that the Minister gave of the opportunities for Government procurement. Is not the truth that despite all his talk, it is almost impossible for small businesses to get Government contracts? (905271)

In that case, it is remarkable that the amount of Government business being given to small and medium-sized businesses has risen to nearly 20% and is on course to rise even higher. Under the arrangements left in place by the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported, a lot of small businesses were simply frozen out because the process was so bureaucratic and clunking that they could not even get into the starting gate, let alone have a chance of winning the race. Now they can, and increasingly they do.

T5. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Cheshire Community Development Trust on the work it does to help the people of Weaver Vale to get into work? Does he agree that that is exactly the sort of social action that should be used as a template to unite communities across the country? (905273)

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has highlighted the important work that Cheshire Community Development Trust does to support people in Weaver Vale. Through our social action work, we are supporting communities across the country to take a more active role in shaping their neighbourhoods and working together for the good of others.

T4. On user satisfaction data, does the Minister accept that the Public Accounts Committee was right to say that the position is currently far short of the ambitions in the White Paper? How long will it be before user satisfaction data are published for all services and all providers? (905272)

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and so was the Public Accounts Committee, to say that we need to go much further. The ambition is to cover all public services. I am currently conducting a review of the complaints procedures across Government to see how we can mine them for user satisfaction data. I hope that that, combined with the expansion of the friends and family test, will lead to increasing fulfilment of our ambition, but the House should be in no doubt that it will take some time to fulfil it completely.

T6. In the previous financial year more than £85 million was spent by the taxpayer on full-time trade union representatives. Is that a fair figure, and what is the Minister doing to reduce it? (905274)

At the time of the last general election there was no monitoring whatsoever of the volume of taxpayer-funded trade union facility time in the civil service. We now have controls in place that saved £23 million last year, and we have already reduced the number of full-time taxpayer-funded union officials from 200 in May 2010 to fewer than 10 this summer.