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Civil Service Staffing: Member Correspondence

Volume 715: debated on Thursday 9 June 2022

19. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the level of civil service staffing to support timely responses to correspondence from hon. Members. (900346)

The Government attach great importance to the effective and timely handling of correspondence. Officials remain committed to providing the highest level of service. As part of our commitment to transparency, we have published data related to letters from MPs and peers answered by Government in 2021, which shows that Cabinet Office timeliness improved each quarter, with 89% of letters—89%—received from hon. Members in quarter four responded to within 20 days.

To get a response: the Equalities Minister, four months; the Health Minister, often four months but can be six months; and the Defence Minister, seven months, with our staff chasing and chasing, while being on the phone for three hours, or up to five hours to UK Visas and Immigration. Behind every letter and every call our office makes is someone in need—often pressing need. We all know that this is due to capacity, so how can the Government state that they plan to cut 20% of civil servant jobs, 91,000 people, when they cannot even cope with undertaking the most basic of tasks?

I recognise the importance of the correspondence for those constituents who write in. It might be instructive to know that Departments have continued to receive a significantly higher volume of correspondence in 2021, mainly due to the pandemic, and that has had an impact on resource and timeliness of responses. During 2021, most Departments continued to receive a significantly higher volume of correspondence. The Department for Transport was able to answer 92% of 13,363 letters, the Ministry of Defence 88% of 3,773 letters, and the Department for International Trade 84% of 2,182 letters, within 20 days.

Order. Can I gently say that I and the former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), have been struggling to ensure that Members’ letters, from all sides, are answered? We should not try to defend the indefensible. I will be honest: Members need letters on behalf of their constituents to be answered as quickly as possible and, unfortunately, I am getting all the complaints. So I just want to add that to the burden to take away.

I call James Grundy. Not here.