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Topical Questions

Volume 646: debated on Wednesday 12 September 2018

Over the recess, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), who is Minister for the constitution, announced that the Government have been able to save the taxpayer more than £300 million since 2016 through the national fraud initiative—a record amount. This clampdown on fraud and error in the public sector has helped us to divert more money to frontline public services.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the Scottish Government’s proposed electoral franchise Bill, which will protect the voting rights of EU citizens and refugees for Holyrood and local government? Does he agree that we should protect people’s rights and extend the Westminster franchise for EU citizens and refugees?

The Government have put forward a package of measures that give enhanced rights to EU citizens lawfully resident in the United Kingdom. We believe that that is a fair and generous offer, and it is currently the subject of negotiations.

T2. When considering the relocation of civil service jobs outside London, will the Minister please remember that the south-west is a great place to live, work and do business, and that the best place is North Devon? (906845)

My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a strong case for his region. The Places for Growth programme demonstrates our commitment to rebalancing the economy by moving Government jobs away from London and the south-east, and the One Public Estate programme is supporting this collaboration. I am pleased to say specifically that the Devon and Torbay partnership expects to deliver 288 jobs and land for 201 homes by 2020.

T3. We know that the Cabinet Office is preparing for the very real threat of no deal, with secret Cobra meetings and civil contingency planning. Business leaders are warning of the disaster of a no deal or a bad deal. Is it not about time that we put this decision—the biggest facing our generation—back to the people for a people’s vote? (906846)

There was a people’s vote in 2016 that, at the time, both the hon. Lady’s party and mine said would be the decisive moment. It is perfectly right that the civil contingencies secretariat in the Cabinet Office takes an active part in contingency planning for all eventualities.

T4 . The Government have identified £1 billion that could be saved through procurement by hospitals. What work is the Cabinet Office doing to support that £1 billion saving so that we can release £200 million of it to scrap hospital car parking charges? (906847)

I know my hon. Friend’s long-standing commitment to this cause. We are committed to delivering value for money for the taxpayer by extending best procurement practice into the wider public sector. The Crown Commercial Service, which manages procurement of common goods and services for both central Government and the wider public sector, including the NHS, has already delivered more than £600 million of savings this year.

T5. The Minister chairs the cross-departmental homelessness reduction taskforce. Rough sleeping is a huge concern to my constituents in Sheffield, but the voluntary and statutory sector tells me that it is held back from tackling it by disproportionate cuts to local government. The recent Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government strategy provided no new money, so will his taskforce look at the issues so that we can actually do something? (906848)

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. The homelessness and rough sleeping implementation taskforce, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and on which I serve, supports the Government’s cross-Government strategy, which was announced earlier this summer. The taskforce is also monitoring the implementation of the new Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the proposals he raises directly.

Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), I am pleased to advise the House that we are joined today by the former Speaker of the Canadian Parliament, the longest serving Speaker in his country’s history, Peter Milliken. Welcome, Peter, to the House of Commons.

Recent figures show that almost £200 million of taxpayers’ money was spent on trade union activists last year. Would not Transport for London, for example, be better advised to spend the £5 million that it spent on trade union activities on transport for London?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Although trade unions of course play an important role in the modern workplace, facility time in the public sector must represent value for money, which is why we have taken a transparent approach to it. We estimate that more than £120 million is being spent on it. Departments and Government agencies must seek to reduce that spending, as I am pleased to say the Cabinet Office has done; we are spending less than 0.01% of our budget on it.

T6. Will the Minister tell the House what steps he has taken to tackle the gender pay gap in the civil service? (906849)

The Government have required all public bodies and large private sector employers to make public their gender pay gap, so that action can then be taken to ensure that that gap is reduced and closed. We are determined that the public sector will set an example.

T7. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, thanks to his efforts and those of the Department of Health and Social Care and of Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust after the collapse of Carillion, work on the Midland Metropolitan Hospital will resume later this year, and the west midlands will get another world-class hospital? (906850)

I am pleased to confirm that the Government and the local trust have reached agreement that the Midland Metropolitan Hospital will be completed by 2022. It will be equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, 15 operating theatres and at least 669 new beds. That is a further demonstration of the Government’s commitment to investment in our national health service.

Since 2010, the central civil service has been cut by 20%, which has severely reduced overall effectiveness and specialist knowledge. In the light of the demands placed on Departments by Brexit, do the Government agree that they are paying the price for that short-sightedness?

The Government remain strongly committed to having an effective civil service. Thanks to funds provided by the Government, we now employ 7,000 more civil servants to deal with Brexit. With the pay settlements that we are reaching on a Department-by-Department basis, we are ensuring that civil servants are properly rewarded.

Ministers were right to listen and act on public sector steel procurement. How are the new procurement regulations bedding down, what is their effect and what benefit are they bringing to the UK steel industry?

We are clear that we will do everything that we can to support our precious steel industry. All central Government Departments are now required to evaluate the social and economic benefits of procurement decisions, alongside price. That has meant that the UK’s steel producers are now in the best possible position to compete for Government work, and UK steel suppliers are able to compete effectively with international suppliers.