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7 Dec 2009 : Column 28

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): We all listened with interest to the Secretary of State's excuses, and with some disbelief to his comments. However, can he advise us whether the taxpayer is likely to face any contractual penalties after his statement today?

Andy Burnham: We have relationships with the commercial sector here, and as I said in my statement, some are commercially sensitive. We want to deliver a successful system, while also recognising that the companies involved have contractual commitments. We are working through those issues; that is why I gave a broad update on the discussions. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would accept that I cannot go into much more detail. Let me make one further point: this is about delivering a system that is affordable, but also does a good job. We are not going to do it on the cheap, as the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) suggests. I fear that the proposal to hand over the job to Google or Microsoft, or whoever else the Opposition have in mind, would simply not do a secure job for the NHS. If the hon. Gentleman wanted to do things on the cheap, I think that he would pay the price later.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): It is absolutely unbelievable that the Secretary of State can come to this House without knowledge of the contingent liability to the NHS resulting from the cancellation of the contracts. Will he please say now what the contingent liability is, and stop dodging the question?

Andy Burnham: That is not what I said; perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not listening or paying attention. We have a contractual commitment and, as I said to his hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) a moment ago, the discussions are commercially sensitive. I am afraid that I am not going to go into those details on the Floor of the House today, although if I can provide the hon. Gentleman with any further details through correspondence, I will do so.

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Smarter Government

3.53 pm

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Liam Byrne): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on "Putting the Frontline First: smarter government", a Command Paper that I am presenting to Parliament today.

This Government are very proud of Britain's public services and Britain's public servants: our doctors and nurses, who treat 1 million people every 36 hours; our police teams, who have brought down crime by a third; the teachers and support staff in our schools, who have helped record numbers of young people get record exam results this year; our job centre staff, who have helped 2 million people move off unemployment since last November; and, of course, our armed forces, serving with such distinction in Afghanistan and around the world.

We always knew that with the right backing, Britain's public servants could transform the quality and standards of public service in this country, and over the last decade they have-not by some happy accident, but by the work of careful design and determined investment. NHS investment has doubled, education investment is up by 60 per cent. and investment in public order and safety is up by 50 per cent. All that was achieved while over-delivering by 20 per cent. on our Gershon review savings of £26.5 billion in the three years to 2008.

Thanks to that effort, we have reached a point at which the investment gap that we inherited in 1997 has been fixed. We have not only reached but exceeded international averages for spending on education and health. We are at a turning point. In the decade ahead we can capitalise on the great strengths that we have created, and set out a new way of driving standards in public services up, while we drive the deficit down.

I am laying before the House today a Command Paper showing how the Government will set about that task in the years to come. It draws together more than 12 months' work from literally thousands of people across public life, the private sector, charities and voluntary groups. I particularly thank Sir Michael Bichard, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt, Martha Lane-Fox, our efficiency advisers Gerry Grimstone, Lord Carter of Coles, Martin Read and Martin Jay, and those from across the third sector who have advanced the relationship between Government and civic society.

Today's Command Paper summarises what we have learned from that work, but our starting point is a relentless focus on standards. We are ambitious for Britain's future: we know that we can do well in the years to come. However, we know that if Britain's families are to do well in the future, they will need first-class public services to support them. We will make first-class standards in public services not a privilege for the few but the right of all, by setting out-in health, education, policing and, in time, social care-new entitlements to high-quality public services, backed where appropriate by the force of law.

To help citizens to hold local services to account, we will revolutionise the free availability of comparative information on police efficiency, hospital costs, and Government and local authority spending. We will ensure that services, where they can, fit in with the demands of
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modern life by putting more services online, and we will redouble our efforts to persuade more people to use the internet. Today I can announce the provision of a further £30 million with the aim of getting 1 million more people online by 2012. We will free public data created using taxpayers' money, including Ordnance Survey mapping and boundary information. We will make it easier for civic society to contribute to public life by pressing ahead with a new social investment bank, and by testing social impact bonds.

Our second principle will be to free up the front line to innovate and collaborate by cutting back on ring-fenced budgets and national targets. I am therefore setting out today 10 steps that I, with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, have drawn up to provide local councils with a range of trading, joint-venture and regulatory flexibilities. I believe that if we set in place strong rights to high standards and free up the front line to innovate, we can cut overhead costs at the centre.

We are already on track to deliver £30 billion of savings between 2008 and 2011, but today I am setting out steps to save £12 billion more, and in the pre-Budget report we will set out further difficult choices that will have to be made if we are to halve our deficit over four years.

First, we will reduce the costs of the senior civil service. I am announcing today that we will reduce senior civil service costs by 20 per cent. by 2012-13, and seek to move 10 per cent. of civil service posts that are currently in London and the south-east to other parts of the country in the medium term.

Secondly, Bill Cockburn, chair of the Senior Salaries Pay Review Body, will review senior pay across the whole of the public sector, reporting to Government in time for next year's Budget. In the meantime, I will personally review all proposals for salary offers above £150,000 set by Government.

Thirdly, we are publishing today plans drawn up by all Secretaries of State to increase the administrative efficiency for which they are accountable in human resources, IT, collaborative procurement and asset management. I am also publishing benchmarking information for all central Government Departments and major agencies, showing exactly where we will focus to deliver £9 billion of efficiency savings over the next few years. I am also today setting a goal of saving £1.3 billion by putting services online, halving the consultancy bill and reducing our marketing spend by a quarter.

Fourthly, I am announcing today the first results of a comprehensive review of arm's-length bodies, which will report by the time of the 2010 Budget. We will save £500 million a year from changes introduced by the review, and as an interim step we will abolish or rationalise 123 arm's-length bodies, subject to the necessary consultation and legislation.

Finally, I believe that, as part of this new future, the Government must either sell or transfer to different owners the things they no longer need to own. I am therefore publishing today an asset portfolio listing the state-owned assets that Government can commercialise over the medium term. It includes options for the future sale of the Tote, the student loan book, the Dartford crossing and the high-speed rail link, and potential alternative forms of ownership of British Waterways
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agreed by myself and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Our policy will also include a new approach for testing where publicly owned assets should be transferred for use by the third sector.

The Government believe this country is both richer and fairer for the strength of our public services. We will never compromise on high standards, but neither will we ever compromise in our search for value for money. Today's Command Paper sets a new path for the future that draws on the strengths created through a decade's work, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con): I am grateful to the Chief Secretary for letting me have a copy of his statement in advance-not that it, or the Prime Minister's speech this morning, tells us anything much that we have not heard before. The paper is a series of reheated announcements that underline Labour's failure over 12 years to get to grips with public service reform and to cut the waste and inefficiency that have been allowed to multiply.

We were told that all services would be available online, but Tony Blair pledged in 2000 that all services would be available online by 2005, and they were not. The Government tell us they will roll out a "tell us once" service for births and deaths, but they have already told us about "tell us once" three times. There is also the reannouncement of the sale of the Tote: that is a 1997 manifesto commitment that has been reannounced several times since, most recently about six weeks ago at that Dispatch Box. The story is the same for crime mapping, ring-fencing, NHS tariffs, e-auctions, and so on and so on. In addition to the reheated announcements, there is the usual sprinkling of stolen policies: the quango cull that the Leader of the Opposition announced in July this year, and the high-level sign-off for top public sector salaries.

There are also the pledges to undo some of the damage the Government themselves have done during their 12 years in office. The Prime Minister said in this morning's speech that the Government will cut marketing and communications spend by 25 per cent.-after more than quadrupling it since 1997. Since 2000, they have poured billions of pounds of taxpayers' money into unreformed public services, borrowing and spending like it was Monopoly money, and talking about efficiency but never delivering it.

That has happened not because the Government do not understand-the Prime Minister said in a speech to the Institute of Directors in 2001:

It is also not because they did not have good advice-tens of thousands of man-hours spent on reviews and report writing have identified tens of billions of pounds-worth of potential efficiencies. But the Government have not been able to translate that into real cashable savings. Gershon identified £21.5 billion-worth of savings, and while the Chief Secretary has just claimed some fantasy figure for delivered Gershon savings, the National Audit Office says the Government only delivered £3.5 billion in real, hard cashable saving. That is less than 0.1 per cent. of total public spending over the period in question.

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Today, Sir Peter Gershon has joined our public services advisory board, along with Mr. Bernard Gray, the author of the defence procurement report whose conclusions were so damning that the Prime Minister tried to suppress it, and Dr. Martin Read, whom the Chief Secretary has just mentioned and who chaired the Government operational efficiency review. They will advise us as we develop our agenda for a truly radical, bottom-up reform of public service delivery, based on the principles of transparency, alignment of incentives, freedoms to innovate and support for change. They will help us to deliver a genuine culture change in Government and public services by ensuring that efficiency gain and productivity improvement become a central part of the day-to-day business of our public sector, not some alien imposition visited upon it whenever an election is approaching.

The truth is that our front-line public services can be protected for future generations only by genuine reforms-reforms that will close the productivity gap and ensure that those services are affordable for future generations. For 12 years, Labour has demonstrated that it can talk about efficiency but it cannot deliver. The Government's record speaks for itself. Between 1997 and 2007, according to the Office for National Statistics, public sector productivity fell by 3.4 per cent. while private service sector productivity grew by more than 20 per cent. That is a measure of the scale of Labour's failure on public sector efficiency. When the Government have failed so comprehensively for 12 years, why should anybody believe that they will succeed with this mishmash of reheated announcements and stolen clothes in the dying months of their rule?

The Government are ducking the hard questions. The Chancellor is talking about reducing spending while the Prime Minister is making new spending pledges at his party conference and the Schools Secretary and the Transport Secretary are telling us that their budgets will not be cut. Will the Chief Secretary confirm today that there will not be a departmental spending review before the Budget in the spring? Is that what the Chancellor of the Exchequer was telling us yesterday?

As the Chief Secretary has adopted a raft of our policy proposals, let us see whether he will match some of our pledges. Will he, for example, match our pledge to cut by one third the administrative cost of Whitehall bureaucracy and quangos during the lifetime of the next Parliament, saving £3 billion a year for the front line? Will he cap the biggest Whitehall pensions, as we have pledged to do, so that the taxpayer will not contribute any further to pensions that are already worth £50,000 or more? Will he give some clear purpose to these efficiency savings by matching our pledge to deliver real-terms spending increases year on year to the national health service, protecting our most important public service?

The Prime Minister said in his speech this morning that

Let me tell him that there is no hiding place for a Prime Minister who has not only failed to deliver value for money in public spending, but been the roadblock to real reform for a decade. Today's offering is too little and, for the Prime Minister and his Government, it is too late.

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Mr. Speaker: May I say for future reference that the response from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman was longer than the statement itself, and we really do not want that to happen again?

Mr. Byrne: I shall be brief in my reply, Mr. Speaker. That was an extraordinary response. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) claims that there has been no reform in public services. Crime down by a third is reform. He says that there is no reform, but exam results are 50 per cent. better for our young people. That is real reform. He says that there is no public service reform, but getting people in to hospital in four and half weeks instead of 18 months is real reform that the public care about.

The hon. Gentleman prayed in aid the NAO. The truth is that when the NAO considered the Gershon savings, it said:


It went on to say that all of the £26.5 billion savings met the most robust category in its conclusions. The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about productivity and tried to pray in aid some contributions from the ONS. Of course, the ONS said:

I know that there is a taste for experimentation among some people on the hon. Gentleman's team. I hope, however, that it does not extend to the selective use of statistics.

The hon. Gentleman talks about our matching his plan to save £3 billion from Whitehall. We are saying that we will save £12 billion, not only from Whitehall but from the wider public sector, over the next three to four years. Of course, there are a few proposals that I have examined in drawing up these efficiency plans today. I could, for example, have set out proposals to scrap ID cards, which I was told by some quarters would save £2 billion. In fact, on closer inspection, it turns out that that would save no more than £50 million to £100 million. I was told that abolishing regional development agencies would save "a huge amount." It turns out on closer inspection that it would save merely £180 million. I was told that capping public service pensions at £50,000 would save hundreds of millions of pounds. In fact, it turns out that it would save but a small fraction of that. I was told that taking child credits away from families who earn more than £150,000 would save £400 million a year, but it turns out that it would save only £45 million a year. I was told that bringing forward changes to the retirement age could save £13 billion a year, but it would make no impact whatever on the deficit in the next Parliament.

The truth is that every one of those proposals was put forward by the Conservatives, but it turns out that none of them was worth the paper it was written on. No wonder the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge has had to hire a group of Government advisers to answer an SOS-stand up our savings-from the shadow Chancellor, and no wonder he told us this morning that the front line would suffer under the Conservatives, because he has nothing else to pay for the £10 billion-worth of tax cuts that he has promised to people who are rich enough not to need them.

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