The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): We are currently considering the north-west region's advice on the priority that it attaches to this and other major transport schemes in the region within the indicative funding allocation for major transport schemes that were announced last July. We expect to respond to the region's advice later in the year.
Can my hon. Friend give me his assurance that Government resources are available for high-priority local transport schemes that have not been included in the regional transport priorities plan, such as
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the Ormskirk bypass in my constituency? Will he meet with me and Lancashire county council to discuss the future of the Ormskirk bypass?
Dr. Ladyman: I am well aware of my hon. Friend's support for that scheme. She has been a doughty campaigner for it since she entered the House. I am hesitant to give her the entire assurance that she is looking for, since the county council has made the scheme only its second priority and we are still talking to the region about its priorities, but I understand her desire to see the scheme move ahead and if it would help her to understand the issues, I would be happy to meet her to discuss them.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): The civil service has made good progress towards increasing diversity, including at senior levels, but there is still much more to do. We have published and are implementing the diversity 10-point plan. Its aim is to build on the progress so far to deliver a civil service that is truly representative of society.
Lyn Brown: Does he agree that the lack of informal personal networks, and therefore a resultant lack of information about processes, can disadvantage communities? What does he think that we can do to make the playing field more equal?
Mr. Murphy: I agree with my hon. Friend and I know how interested she is in these issues. More can be done, but there has been progress over recent years, as I am sure that she would be first to acknowledge. Among the initiatives being undertaken are a summer development programme for black and minority ethnic citizens and a summer placement scheme for those who are disabled. In particular, we can do more to reach out to those networks of people who lack a formal education the first-time roundthose who are seeking a second chance in lifeand to try to make the civil service an attractive career option for people who lack the formal and informal networks that she speaks of.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)
(Con): Does the Minister agree that it would help the Government's diversity agenda, and the recruitment of women in the civil service, if there was a civil service Act to protect them from being asked to do things that they do not consider appropriate? Does he think that female recruitment and progression will be helped or hindered by the recent revelations from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister?
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Mr. Murphy: The fact is that we waited 148 years for even a draft civil service Bill. We now have that Bill. The hon. Gentleman will just have to be a little more patient when it comes to the Government's specific consideration of a civil service Act. There is, of course, a consultation on the civil service code. Many thousands of people have participated in that and it has been very helpful. Just to reassure himbecause I know how genuinely interested he is in these matterswhen his party was last in power, 17 per cent. of the civil service were women, but the figure is now up to 29 per cent. That is remarkable progress, but we accept that much more needs to be done.
Mr. Murphy: Information technology is an essential component of the Government's programme to deliver and reform public services. As I announced on 29 March to the House, the implementation plan for the transformational government strategy has been published.
Kitty Ussher: I thank the Minister for that response and I welcome the transformational work that has been done, but does he not agree that there is not much point in people being able to sort out their tax and benefits online, if they cannot afford a computer? Will he therefore commit to doing more to improve IT access and, in particular, broadband access in poorer communities, such as those that many of my constituents live in?
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend has raised these matters before and she is right to do so. Partly in the social exclusion unit and also in the Cabinet Office, we are working to ensure access to wireless broadband, in particular. Many of the households concerned do not have a fixed telephone line, so wireless broadband access is really important for many of our constituents across the country. I have seen projects around the country, such as Eastserve in east Manchester, which serves the type of community that she mentions. In addition, there are about 6,000 UK online centres, which enable low-cost access to the internet for those who do not have the opportunity, as yet, to have computers and broadband access at home.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): I am very pleased to hear that the Minister is developing a transformational strategy for IT, but many of my constituents who are struggling to get their child support payments through the new CS2 system, which is, in many respects, performing worse that the original CSCS system, will find it laughable that the Government are trying to transform even more IT systems. The Government's progress on transforming systems has been a disasterdoes the Minister agree with that?
No, I would not agree with that at all. The Child Support Agency is under the management of a new operational improvement plan that is being undertaken,
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and the Department for Work and Pensions and EDS are working together on a serious problem. No one on either side of the House would suggest that there has been anything other than a serious systems failure. However, the hon. Lady's constituents and mine will realise that most Government projects that are enabled by IT do work, such as the payment modernisation programme, tax self-assessment and the internet job bank. As we further drive the transformational Government programme, we will increasingly rely on well-defined, well-structured and well-costed IT-enabled projects to make public services more relevant and personal to the citizens whom we all serve.
Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend rightly welcomes local initiatives to encourage people's access to computers. Is he aware of the Shoreditch digital bridge, which is being formally launched next week? What support are the Government giving such local projects that bring IT and access to technology into people's living rooms in an innovative way?
Mr. Murphy: I am not aware of the specifics of the Shoreditch bridge, but will be happy to become acquainted with it and, if the opportunity arises, to make a visit so that I can listen and learn. There are innovative projects throughout the country. I visited the Western Isles of Scotland, which is at the geographical periphery of this United Kingdom, where IT-enabled projects are helping to maintain schools and education, helping an island population to play their part in that and enabling a crofter, of all industries, to maintain his business. There are thus excellent examples. It is important that we learn from good experiences so that mistakes are not replicated and best practice can be copied throughout the country.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The most transformational thing that the Minister could do would be to get IT systems to talk to one another across the Government, or even, say, in one Department. Let us take, for example, the Home Office, which wants to keep a database of the personal details of every person in the country. Does the Prison Service computer talk to the immigration and nationality directorate computer? Does either communicate with the police national computer or the Courts Service computer? If none of those things happens, can we go back to an easier technology, with each prisoner's file having a big red stamp on the front reading, "Don't releasedeport"?
The hon. Gentleman makes his point in his own way. The fact is that we have challenges regarding IT systems, many of which were previously constructed in silos. We need to ensure that across Government the systems talk to each other coherently and sensibly. There are practical examples of that happening. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had a chance to do this, but I visited a project in Leamington Spa in which all those involved in the criminal justice system are enabling such conversation to take place and thus delivering for the people of the area. The hon. Gentleman is right that we have to approach data-sharing in a way that ensures that we cut
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across operational boundaries and have effectiveness in government, but that we do so sensitively to protect individuals' liberty and privacy.