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Government Projects

Volume 718: debated on Thursday 14 July 2022

5. What progress his Department has made on reducing the cost of Government projects to help ensure value for money in public spending. (901046)

8. What progress his Department has made on reducing the cost of Government projects to help ensure value for money in public spending. (901049)

15. What progress his Department has made on reducing the cost of Government projects to help ensure value for money in public spending. (901058)

Before I reply, I want to make it clear that the figure is 1.4 million envelopes at the DVLA—I misheard a helpful heckle.

I gave part of the answer to this question on 12 July, in reply to written parliamentary questions 29939 and 30195. The Infrastructure and Projects Authority provides expert advice and independent assurance on the Government major projects portfolio. Working alongside HM Treasury, which is responsible for value for money, it develops robust project cost estimates and builds capacity and capability to deliver effectively. The 2022 IPA annual report will set out progress made on the GMPP.

As a civil engineer, I was never an enthusiastic supporter of HS2 as the cost-benefit analysis of the project was never completely clear to me. One thing I know as a civil engineer is that project creep, and its related costs, is a very real thing. The Transport Secretary announced—in March—£1.7 billion of potential future cost pressures, so what steps is the Minister’s Department taking to ensure that cost pressures are managed pre-emptively rather than reacted to?

My hon. Friend is wise to raise these important points, because taxpayers’ money must always be dealt with carefully. The Department for Transport is closely monitoring the rate of increase of potential contingency spend on HS2, together with any opportunities to realise cost savings through the monthly ministerial taskforce meetings. The £1.7 billion of potential future cost pressures reported in March is manageable within the phase 1 target cost of £40.3 billion given the level of remaining contingency, noting that that represents less than 4% of the overall budget.

We need to cut the cost of the state and ensure that Government Departments spend our money—taxpayers’ money—in a prudent and commercial way. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to conduct a review of all major Government projects to ensure that we are doing that?

I am entirely in agreement with my hon. Friend. It is so important that with the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and the Treasury we ensure that Departments spend money well. You and I, Mr Speaker, managed together to lay the framework for stopping potentially £20 billion, or whatever the ridiculous figure ended up as, being spent on restoration and renewal here when it all got completely out of control. It is so important that all public expenditure is kept under control, and we all have a duty to share in that.

I welcome the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to his place. I know he is sorely missed in the Home Office.

When the Labour party was last in government, it wasted billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, including an astonishing £26 billion on a botched IT project. Does my right hon. Friend agree that only the Conservatives can be trusted to responsibly manage taxpayers’ money?

Yes, I agree philosophically and practically, because you will notice, Mr Speaker, that my hon. Friend and I carefully refer to taxpayers’ money when the socialists normally refer to it as Government money. There is no such thing; there is only taxpayers’ money that we have a duty to protect. When they are in office we see botched IT projects such as the NHS one that my hon. Friend referred to, costing £26 billion, but what have we done? We have an IT project that is working like billy-o, looking after hundreds of thousands of extra universal credit applications through the pandemic. The Tories know how to spend money sensibly.

Well, crikey! This Government have a track record of waste and siphoning off public money through contracts given to friends of and donors to the Tory party. The Procurement Bill is an opportunity for them to end that reckless approach by making a cast-iron commitment to maximise the value of every pound of taxpayers’ money spent. What is value for money under a Tory Government? Is it an excuse to slash services and leave an open goal for their dodgy mates to profit at the public’s expense, or will they take a page out of Labour’s plan to buy, make and sell in Britain, which would distribute economic, social and environmental value across the country by boosting British businesses?

Order. For the record, may I say that it is easier if I call Members? I was actually calling Patricia Gibson, but do not worry—it is fine: I will come back to her later.

Once again, we hear the socialists calling for two different things, contradictorily, within the same question. First we should be focusing on value for money—yes, I absolutely agree—and then we should be putting all the hobby horses of the left into the procurement process. We want value for money, and that is what is being legislated for in the other place, and the Bill will come to this House in due course.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was down for a topical question, but as I listened to the sound of an alternative universe being played out in the Chamber with this talk about taking care of taxpayers’ money, I felt compelled to get to my feet.

The Public Accounts Committee has described the UK Government’s procurement of £4 billion of unusable personal protective equipment during the pandemic—which has had to be burnt—as the result of a “haphazard purchasing strategy”. Governing is all about responsibility, and we know how much those on the Treasury Bench care about looking after taxpayers’ money, so will the Minister explain who he thinks should be accountable and responsible for the “haphazard purchasing strategy” which has seen £4 billion go up in smoke?

You are right, Mr Speaker: I have got the point, and it is a terribly bogus point. At the height of the pandemic, all Opposition Members were calling for PPE to be delivered “yesterday”, and the Government managed to increase the proportion of domestically produced PPE from less than 1% to nearly 80%, excluding gloves. The hon. Lady talks as if the Scottish National party, our separatist friends, were any good at this. May I say to her “ferries, ferries, ferries”? That was one of the biggest and most scandalous wastes of money, and it was done by the SNP.