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House of Commons

Thursday 30 March 2006

The House met at half-past Ten o'clock


The unavoidable absence of Mr. Speaker having been announced, The Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—

Gershon Process

1. Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): What recent representations he has received on the implementation of the Gershon process. [62322]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): Reductions in posts so far have been 40,000 gross and 33,000 net, as we achieve the Gershon purpose of releasing resources for front-line services. To further this aim, we have today, while accepting the recommendations of the pay review bodies, staged the awards for judges and senior    civil servants—including Ministers, MPs and consultants—with an initial award of just 1 per cent. from l April. Nurses will receive 2.5 per cent. immediately and, granting them with progression awards, average rises of 5.2 per cent., as we match anti-inflation discipline with fairness. Average rises in the public sector pay awards will be 2.25 per cent.

Mrs. Dorries: I thank the Minister for his reply. I wonder whether he saw the damning "Panorama" programme on Sunday night called "The NHS blame game". I wonder whether Gershon is to blame for hospitals closing, wards closing and thousands of nurses losing their jobs.

Mr. Brown: As a former nurse—I welcome her to the House—the hon. Lady should know that there are 79,000 more nurses in the national health service. There are 27,000 more doctors in the national health service. Even in the last year, as deficits have been adjusted, there have been thousands more people working in the national health service. That is the why there are a quarter of a million more operations taking place in the health service now than there were under the Conservatives.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend accept our congratulations on the great success that he is already having in increasing front-line services in the national
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health service? Will he have a look to see whether it is possible, as part of or in addition to the Gershon review of non front-line services, to introduce a policy of natural wastage, which is probably the fairest way? Those who, for one reason or another, leave the service could be replaced by recruitment from within, promotion from within or redeployment from within.

Mr. Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In the Department for Work and Pensions, some redeployment has been taking place already to new front-line services such as helping single parents into work and helping with our incapacity benefit reforms, and we will continue to do that. In addition, I announced last week in the Budget that there would be zero settlements for the Home Office between 2008 and 2011 and minus 5 per cent. settlements for the Treasury, the Cabinet Office, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions. So we will continue to release resources by administrative savings for front-line services. The difference between ourselves and our opponents is that we will release resources to improve front-line services whereas they simply want to cut public services.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): How does the Chancellor reconcile his proposal to make 5 per cent. real annual cuts in the Inland Revenue and the DWP, which is much more than Gershon thought prudent, with his overall strategy of trying to deal with poverty by extending mass means-testing, which relies much more on those Departments? Is there not a lack of joined-up thinking here?

Mr. Brown: May I first welcome the Liberal Democrats shadow Chancellor to his new job as deputy leader of his party. He has come a long way since we jointly worked on Labour party tracts in the 1970s. The last shadow chancellor to become deputy leader of the party was Roy Jenkins, and he walked out of both jobs within a few months. At least he went to better paid jobs as a result.

On the issue of poverty, last Wednesday in the Budget I showed that if we could combine the rise in the child tax credit with getting more single parents back into work we could take 300,000 more children out of poverty. I just hope that the Liberal party will reconsider its position on these issues. The single most important factor—Opposition Members should recognise this—in taking children out of poverty in the past few years has been the introduction of the child tax credit and helping single parents and others into work. That has taken 700,000 children out of poverty. The measures that I announced last week will take another 300,000 people out of poverty. No party in the House has produced an alternative plan to take so many people out of poverty. More children have been taken out of poverty in the past few years than in any period for 40 years.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement of the increased pay for nurses. That will make a great deal of difference. It will make a great deal of difference to nurses working in my constituency. Does the Chancellor agree that it is in the spirit of the Gershon review that we move resources from back-line to front-line services?
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Mr. Brown: That is absolutely what we are trying to achieve. We want to move resources from back-office services by means of technological change to the front-line caring services, especially in the NHS. My hon. Friend will notice that the average salary for a nurse is going up today from £27,000 to over £28,400. That is to recruit more nurses into the national health service. I would have thought that, as a former nurse, the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) would welcome what we are doing today. It represents both fairness to nurses and achieving anti-inflation discipline in the economy.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Several hon. Gentlemen wrongly claimed that I was banned from the Budget debate, but on Tuesday night I suspect that the real Chief Secretary wished that he had been banned from it.

The Chancellor has always claimed that the Gershon review would produce efficiency savings without having an impact on quality of service. Does he agree with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions who said of the impact of Gershon on Jobcentre Plus:

Are not the Government failing some of the most vulnerable people in Britain by presiding over what the Select Committee described as "truly appalling service levels" at Jobcentre Plus?

Mr. Brown: I would think more of the Conservatives' position if they were not in favour of cuts in basic services in the first place. If the hon. Lady really wants to look at evidence, why does she not look at the National Audit Office report? Mr. Keith Davis of the NAO said:

The report noted that there were many examples of good progress and listed all of them. If people want an overall view of the effect of Gershon, which has brought 40,000 post reductions, they should look at the NAO report and what it says in support of what the Government are doing.

Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West) (Lab): A nurse who came to see me over the weekend told me that because we are investing in front-line services, particularly nurses, she is looking forward to an increased career as a nurse practitioner or a nurse consultant. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, far from damaging front-line services, that is an example of resources being moved from the back office to front-line services?

Mr. Brown: Surely, the challenge is to make the savings that we are talking about and then to improve front-line services. The difference between ourselves and the Opposition is that the shadow Chancellor committed himself, on GMTV only a few days ago, to cut the share of national income taken by the state—a £17 billion cuts programme this year, with £16 billion next year. That can only damage basic services in the economy.
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