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House of Commons

Wednesday 31 January 2007

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Duchy of Lancaster

The Chancellor was asked—

V Organisation

1. Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the performance of the organisation v in helping young people volunteer. [112460]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): V has made good progress since its launch in May last year, creating 42,000 volunteering opportunities for young people this year alone. It has attracted pledges of more than £17 million in match funding from the private sector, and in addition up to £100 million is available from the Government. I look forward to it making further progress.

Lynda Waltho: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that he agrees that for good volunteering opportunities, we need access to good funding. Unfortunately, Tory-controlled Dudley metropolitan borough council has just cut grants to 40 voluntary organisations in my constituency. Will my hon. Friend visit my constituency and meet my young volunteers and co-ordinators, with a view to their accessing v funding?

Edward Miliband: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I certainly will come to her constituency to see the good work being done there. She raises the important point that the work done by organisations such as v is significant. It is important that v should be independent from Government and sector-led, and that it hears the voice of young people, but it is also important to ensure that the proper resources are put in, so that we ensure the high-quality volunteering opportunities that young people need. The experience that my hon. Friend mentions gives us a preview of what would happen if the Opposition came to power.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): We do not need to wait for that to happen, glorious though that possibility is. The Minister’s own Government promised £3.7 million to Community Service Volunteers last year, but they failed to pay it. CSV approached the Minister, who said
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that he was anxious to help. That did not come to any good, so CSV approached the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but apparently nothing happened. It was not until lawyers got involved that the Government finally paid up, and as a result CSV lost £90,000 in interest. Will Ministers reimburse that lost interest, or will the epitaph for this temporary team be “We were anxious to help, but nothing happened”?

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman raises the case of CSV, and it is a bad case. He is correct to say that the money should have been paid earlier by the Department of Health, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and I both got involved to expedite the process. On the question of the interest, I think that his suggestion should be looked at sympathetically. I know that the Department of Health and the Treasury are both in discussions with CSV, and I hope that there is a productive outcome.

Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): Last Friday night, I presented certificates of achievement to 100 millennium volunteers aged 16 to 24. That demonstrates that the desire to volunteer is strong among young people in Hartlepool, but what additional incentives will my hon. Friend consider to encourage greater take-up of volunteering among young people? For example, will he consider waiving tuition fees for young people who volunteer?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend has raised an important point. In the pre-Budget report, the Chancellor suggested looking into whether the issue of tuition fees could be considered in relation to volunteering opportunities. The young volunteers to whom I talk say that they get a huge amount out of volunteering for themselves and their future career, and also get satisfaction from it. Part of the job of v and other organisations is to spread that message more widely, including through young people themselves.

Voluntary Sector Compact

2. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): Whether the compact on relations with the voluntary sector has been fully implemented across all Departments. [112461]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): Since its introduction in 1998, important steps have been taken to implement the compact. However, we recognise that there is more to do. That is why key aspects of it, such as multi-year funding, are a focus of the next spending review, and that is why we have appointed a new commissioner to oversee its implementation.

Mr. Amess: The Minister must know that the compact on relations with the voluntary sector will be 10 years old next year, yet key principles, such as full cost recovery by key Government funders, have been routinely ignored. There was a cross-cutting review in 2002, and there is now another review. Will the Minister tell the voluntary sector in Southend and throughout the country what will be different about the latest review, recognising that we all welcome a “sinner that repenteth”?

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Edward Miliband: What I will tell voluntary groups in Southend is that there has been massive improvement in the past 10 years. Even in the past two years, the proportion of organisations funded on the basis of full cost recovery has gone up from 49 to 57 per cent. Do not take my word for it; look at a document published just before Christmas, which said:

Who published that document? Not the Government, but the Conservative party’s social justice policy group, on which the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) serves.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend will be aware that the voluntary sector is particularly well represented in the sports sector, as 26 per cent. of all volunteers are involved in sport. Will he ensure that they fully understand the implications of the compact? He is welcome to attend a meeting tomorrow of a national organisation that represents all those people, of which I am chair. Will he bring the message of hope, which is that volunteering, particularly in 2012, will drive forward our agenda, particularly for young people, who increasingly get involved in volunteering, especially in sport? That is the positive message that I hope he will bring to the meeting.

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend is right. I am looking forward to the meeting that he mentions. Already 110,000 people have volunteered to get involved in the Olympics, both before and during the games. There is a massive opportunity to drive that number far higher, to get a whole generation of young people, in particular, involved in volunteering, and to use the Olympic games not just for the good that they will do for sport in this country, but for the wider effects that they can have.

Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): In assessing the implementation of the compact, is the Minister aware that the Department for Work and Pensions proposes to take £20 million of European social fund moneys away from successful voluntary sector schemes to help the most disadvantaged back into work, and to use those moneys to fund its own activities instead, which may cause, for example, CSV to lay off 100 people and deny help to 17,000 people in the coming financial year? Does he think that that is in the spirit of the compact and, if not, will he ask the Department for Work and Pensions to think again?

Edward Miliband: The amount of money available under the European social fund is falling over time, partly as a result of increased prosperity in the United Kingdom. That judgment is made not in this country, but in Europe. Stability in funding for the voluntary sector is extremely important. That is why we are putting an emphasis on three-year funding, which the Chancellor referred to in the pre-Budget report. I cannot guarantee that every voluntary organisation will continue to be funded. What we can seek to do is change the culture in Government so that there is greater stability in funding.

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3. Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): What steps she is taking to promote volunteering. [112462]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Hilary Armstrong): Since 2002 the Government have set a target to increase levels of volunteering, including most recently to increase substantively levels of volunteering by communities at particular risk of marginalisation. In the financial year beginning April 2007 more than £64 million will be invested by the Government in volunteering programmes in England. That is up from £5.3 million in 1997.

Mrs. James: I am sure my right hon. Friend will be interested to hear about the work of Swansea Council for Voluntary Service’s development project for 14 to 19-year-olds. The projects raises awareness about volunteering for young people and provides new opportunities for them, which is much appreciated by the people they work with. Will she join me in congratulating SCVS on its work and ensure that volunteering continues to receive Government funding?

Hilary Armstrong: I am happy to welcome the reports from Swansea that the local authority there is working hard to improve opportunities for volunteering. That is happening across the country. I welcome local government’s recognition that encouraging young people in particular to volunteer is an important way for them to improve their self-esteem, engage effectively with other people, and build skills and confidence that will serve them well in years to come.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): What steps is the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster taking in the farms, communities and lands for which she is specifically responsible in the north of England to promote volunteering?

Hilary Armstrong: The Duchy is of course involved in the entire programme and has available to it all the programmes that the Government have initiated. I shall certainly look at that as I go around many of the farms and so on. The volunteering for all programme is designed to encourage everyone, especially those who have been in areas of social exclusion and marginalisation. I am not sure that that would apply to all the Duchy tenants, but we are seeking to widen the range of people coming forward. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that over the past two years the number of people volunteering has increased by 2 million. That will no doubt be welcomed across the House.

Social Exclusion

4. Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment she has made of the role of the personalisation of public services in tackling social exclusion. [112464]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Pat McFadden): Personalisation is crucial to the effectiveness of public services and tackling social exclusion, particularly among the most disadvantaged. People rightly expect services to be tailored to their
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own needs and circumstances. That is why the Government have introduced measures such as direct payments for disabled people and those requiring social services, specialised help for struggling pupils at school, and stretching programmes for more talented pupils, as well as the pathways to work programme for disabled people receiving incapacity benefit.

Meg Hillier: In my constituency, we have many varied social and health needs, so I welcome the approach towards personalising services. However, I am concerned that not all our large public bodies are yet ready to provide that personalisation to the person who walks through the door, be it of the jobcentre or the health centre. What assessment does my hon. Friend make of where we stand now and the direction of travel?

Mr. McFadden: I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to go further. She is right to say that public services must be geared to people’s individual circumstances. We will take more steps in that direction through the projects to support the most vulnerable families and children that will be announced shortly by the Department for Education and Skills and through the work being done by the social exclusion taskforce and the Department for Communities and Local Government on ways to support adults with some of the most difficult multiple and complex needs.

Deputy Prime Minister

The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Departmental Efficiency Savings

9. Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): What action he plans to take in response to the initiative on departmental efficiency savings announced in the pre-Budget report. [112469]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): The Government’s objective is to achieve a strong economy and a just society. I continue to play a full part in developing and implementing that Government policy, as the Prime Minister has asked me to do. Significant progress has been made over the past 10 years whereby we have proved that we can have strong economic growth coupled with social justice, as well as exceed our Kyoto targets on the environment.

Mr. Jackson: On performance, the House will know that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, unlike any other Whitehall Department, is not required to produce an autumn performance report or a capability review. Is that official confirmation that the Deputy Prime Minister does not have a proper job, or is it that he is incapable of performing the one that he is supposed to have?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As I have told the House before, I carry out the job exactly as Lord Heseltine defined it—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Well, hon. Members can check the record as to exactly what Lord Heseltine said to the Public Service Committee about working on behalf of the Prime Minister at their request.

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As for departmental capability reviews, it is a pity that the previous Administration did not have them. If that had been done under the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported perhaps we would not have had the mess that we had with mass unemployment and the running down of most of our social services which led to the Tories being thrown out in 1997.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Given the Deputy Prime Minister’s long track record in trade union activity, will he comment on today’s strike by Public and Commercial Services Union members who are concerned about job losses, reductions in pay and the billions being spent on consultancy, which make it ever more difficult for them to deliver the quality of service that we as taxpayers need—particularly today, which, I remind hon. Members and colleagues, is the last day for self-assessment forms to be returned?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As the Government have made clear, the two parties have to get round the negotiating table on these matters of dispute. Indeed, I spend quite a bit of my time involved in that process. I would say to the union that it should look at this Government’s record in terms of how many public service employees there are now compared with 1997—well into hundreds of thousands are employed in front-line services in hospitals and in education. Of course there have been some adjustments and reforms—we accept that—but, in terms of what the union is talking about, there have been only 35 redundancies. Yes, it has a job to do in presenting the viewpoint of its members, but at the end of the day this dispute must be settled around the negotiating table, and we encourage the union to get there.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Since the Department’s efficiency savings depend on the success of the profit-sharing agreement for the millennium dome site, and since Anschutz Entertainment Group has said that it has no plan B following the collapse of the £300 million casino project, what plan B does the Deputy Prime Minister have to salvage the revenue?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The contract on the dome is clear for all to see. It was negotiated between the Government and the company, and that is what it will have to carry out. I have not been involved in any way in plan As or plan Bs, although the hon. Gentleman makes that suggestion. I have simply been involved in seeing that a contract negotiated by a previous colleague was implemented. It has been very good for Greenwich, creating more jobs and more prosperity, which mirrors an awful lot of what this Government are doing right round the country.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that despite the initiative on departmental efficiency savings, he has managed to spend £645 changing the sign outside his office from “Office of the Deputy Prime Minister” to “Deputy Prime Minister’s Office”? Does not that symbolise the shocking waste of money under this Government when thousands of jobs are being cut from the NHS?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: As for the name plate, it is dealt with by the Department and its civil servants, to be honest. I hear the argument about £645, but that would not have paid for one sentence of any of the right hon. Gentleman’s speeches at the rate he charges— [Interruption.] Leaving that aside, if the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the waste of money, let us talk about the billions of pounds we paid keeping people on the dole, which this Government changed in 1997.

Mr. Hague: It will not be many months before the Deputy Prime Minister can charge a fortune, because people will split their sides for his speeches. He has all of that to look forward to. In the meantime, since he is responsible for the co-ordination of Government policy, does not the state of the Home Office, with prisoners who should be in jail being released because of the failure to plan, and the state of the health service, with 37,000 job cuts this year, suggest that co-ordination of policy has rarely been so incoherent and paralysed? Does the responsibility for that lie with the Deputy Prime Minister or with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

The Deputy Prime Minister: We fully accept our responsibility for the good government of this country. We have got millions of people back to work, we have reduced waiting lists and put more investment into education and health, so we are happy to compare that record with the 18 years under the right hon. Gentleman’s Government. We have a very good record, which I ask him to consider. It is a bit of a cheek for the right hon. Gentleman to criticise us, bearing in mind that he was a member of that disastrous Government, who brought terrible consequences for our people and the country’s economy. I am quite prepared to make a comparison. Let the right hon. Gentleman keep on making the speeches; quite frankly, that is just about where his ability lies. I believe that he is now the man responsible for getting the votes back for his party in Yorkshire and Humberside. There were no gains when he was leading the Tory party and if he has to get the level of support back to that in 1992, I am bound to tell him that it will take 40 years. That sounds right. Keep the night-time job and the pay, but quite frankly, he will not be back in government.

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