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Topical Questions

Volume 603: debated on Wednesday 9 December 2015

The Cabinet Office is responsible for increasing the efficiency of government and for delivering the Government’s agenda. I am happy to say that, with the help of the fine civil servants to whom I just referred, we are doing just that.

Will the Minister outline the steps that the Government are taking to promote social enterprise, which is one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government are totally committed to the social enterprise sector. That is partly about leading by example, which is why, in common with many of my hon. Friends, I serve in my village community shop—we all undertake these things. More than that, however, it is about creating the framework within which social enterprise can flourish. That comes back to the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) that social impact bonds offer a whole new future for the social enterprise sector.

Many volunteers in the emergency services, particularly the fire and rescue services, were again heroically leading the rescue efforts in the flooded north-west region this week. The service has been at the receiving end of some savage cuts on the frontline, resulting in untold pressures. In Cumbria alone, 87 jobs have been lost. Is it not time that as part of a modern civil contingency and emergency national strategic plan, the Government agreed that flood rescue should be made a fully resourced statutory duty of the fire and rescue service? Can he say whether this issue of national importance was discussed at the Cobra meetings last week?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place, and look forward to many exchanges with him on this and other matters. The fact of the matter is that we not only protected the budget for the police in the recent statement, but the fire service has done a fantastic job of reducing the amount of damaging fires over the last Parliament, improving its efficiency while all the time delivering its vital work to keep people safe.

T2. In the last year, there were 922 million visits to websites. Is this in line with the Minister’s expectations, and how can the service be further improved? (902499) is one of the first parts of the work that we have done to ensure that government is digitally enabled, making citizens’ lives easier by making it easier for them to interact with government. The number of hits is far higher than anybody expected, which is a tribute to the work of the people who put it together. [Interruption.]

T6. According to a survey this month by Tungsten Network, 12% of the UK’s 5.2 million small and medium-sized enterprises still have to wait more than 90 days to get paid by suppliers. Will the Minister update us on his Government’s progress on meeting targets on prompt payments to suppliers? (902503)

We changed the rules last year to ensure that when the Government buy from the private sector, payments must be made within 30 days—and that cascades all the way down the supply chain. I can also report that we have hit our target for a quarter of all Government procurement to go to small businesses, and we now want to increase that target from a quarter to a third.

T3. What plans does the Minister have to ensure that groups who are under-represented on the electoral roll register to vote? (902500)

We are fully committed to bringing more under-represented groups into electoral participation. That is why we are working with Operation Black Vote and other such groups to bring people in from the black and minority ethnic communities. I also draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the very interesting experiment being tried at Sheffield University to nudge the student population to sign up for an automatic registration system. We are looking very carefully at that.

T7. If it does indeed transpire that there are fewer people on the new electoral register after the introduction of independent electoral registration, will the Government consider that to be a success or a failure? (902504)

I think what the hon. Gentleman is missing is the fact that, as a result of the measures that have been taken, people who were not at the addresses at which they had previously been registered will be eliminated. The creation of an accurate register is an aim of democracy, not a defect of democracy.

My hon. Friend has asked a very important question. If the civil service is to work to support the whole country, it needs to reflect the whole country, so we are taking steps across the board to increase social mobility as well as other kinds of diversity. One of the most exciting aspects of that is the huge apprenticeship scheme that now allows and encourages people from all backgrounds to pursue successful careers in the civil service.