Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 592: debated on Wednesday 11 February 2015

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

Today’s National Audit Office report on late payment says that the Government’s policy to pay invoices more quickly risks boosting the working capital of the main contractors rather than benefiting small businesses down the supply chain. Why then did the Government on three separate occasions refuse to adopt amendments I tabled ensuring that small businesses all the way down the supply chain would have been paid on time?

We have gone infinitely further than any previous Government ever did to ensure that payment is speeded up through the creation of project bank accounts and inserting into main suppliers’ contract terms a requirement that they pay quickly as well, because the concern is a very real one. Small businesses can end up being starved of cash and it is not acceptable, so we are driving much better practice through these legal obligations. The situation is better than it was, but there is much more still to do.

T2. May I congratulate and thank my right hon. Friend on having secured a 4.3% increase in public service productivity in the first three years of his watch, by contrast with the zero growth over the previous 13 years? What further measures does he plan to take to increase public sector productivity? (907583)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. There is much more to do. According to the Office for National Statistics, public sector productivity remained flat throughout the Labour years and it has started to increase, but there is much more that we need to do. We have said further savings and reductions in the cost of delivering public services can be made while the quality of the service increases. We have shown over this period that we can do more for less, but we are going to need to continue with redoubled effort in the future.

Given his laudable aims to improve access to Government contracts for small business, is the right hon. Gentleman as disappointed as I am about revelations in The Independent today that Capita faces allegations of using a major Government contract to short-change small companies, forcing many out of business? He described this contract as a model of how to open up the public sector, yet it has catastrophically failed. Given his championing of the Maude awards for failure, will this contract be a winner of such an award, and what lessons has he learned from this contract?

We have learned a lot of lessons from this contract, and I absolutely am as disappointed as the hon. Lady. It should not be working like this. I am aware of the concerns and we are investigating them very rapidly to get remedial action; it is not acceptable.

T3. The framework agreement for public procurement of infrastructure in the south-west provides that the bidder that gets closest to the average tender price, not the cheapest, gets the job. Will my right hon. Friend look into this matter, because it seems to me that this is wasting taxpayers’ money? (907584)

I am not familiar with the precise issue my hon. Friend raises, but it sounds very odd to me, and I will investigate it. Of course everyone who spends public money procuring services, goods or infrastructure needs to ensure the money is spent as well as it possibly can be, and I will look urgently at the case my hon. Friend raises.

T4. The Geoffrey Dickens dossier was distributed across the Central Office of Information in the early ’80s, with one special archive suddenly emerging. How can we be certain there is not another special archive in the Cabinet Office that needs to be handed over to the police immediately? (907585)

The Central Office of Information had nothing to do with any of this. That is a completely different, and now defunct, organisation. I am ensuring that officials in my Department are going through all the files thoroughly to make sure that they are organised, that they know what is in them, and that any files that are at all relevant are submitted immediately to all of the inquiries that are under way. There is no excuse whatsoever for these files not being surfaced.

T5. Will the Minister join me in praising the vibrant charity and social enterprise sector in west Norfolk for all its superb work, especially the two charities chosen by this year’s mayor, Barry Ayres, namely the Prince’s Trust of King’s Lynn and the west Norfolk Kandoo club? (907586)

Social enterprises and charities make an invaluable contribution to our economy and society, and I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in thanking those charities in Norfolk and others across the country for their work. We are investing about £470 million over the spending review period directly to support charities and voluntary groups.

T7. At Prime Minister’s questions in November last year, the Prime Minister said that “there are 1,000 more GPs across the country than there were in 2010.”—[Official Report, 5 November 2014; Vol. 587, c. 822.]According to the UK Statistics Authority, however, there were actually 356 fewer. That is just one error. The UKSA recently revealed that, since May 2010, it had had to investigate the Government more than 200 times for the use of dirty statistics. When will this Government stop their fiddling? (907588)

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the UK Statistics Authority has on several occasions found the Opposition guilty of using statistics in a misleading way. That is its function: to hold us all accountable.