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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 23 March 2011

[David Amess in the Chair]

Public Sector Funding

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Brooks Newmark .)

9.30 am

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): I am pleased to have secured a debate on the important topic of the effects on the voluntary sector of reductions in public sector funding. I am also pleased to serve under you as Chair, Mr Amess.

In the current economic context, a thriving community and voluntary sector is vital. Locally, people with debt problems need their citizens advice bureau, carers need their carers centre and people need support from organisations that work with children with special needs or with people who have long-term conditions. The previous Labour Government have a proud record of support for a stronger voluntary sector. We doubled the funding to the sector from £5.5 billion to £12 billion in 2009, and created the first ever Minister for the third sector, with an office putting the third sector at the heart of Government. In addition, we gave the third sector a strong voice in Government through the Third Sector Partnership Board.

We also supported social enterprise. At the end of 2010, there were approximately 62,000 social enterprises in the UK, contributing at least £24 billion to the economy and employing 800,000 people. Labour did much to boost and encourage volunteering in our communities when we were in government. Some 850,000 charity trustees serve on the governing body of a charity, and 780,000 paid staff work in the sector to provide services and to support and encourage volunteering. There are also 2.7 million volunteers, on whom many small charities rely. For example, my local citizens advice bureau in Walkden has 20 volunteers a day working with staff who are trained debt advisers or are trained to offer legal advice.

Some 40% of adults report that they have volunteered formally at least once in the past 12 months, with 25% volunteering formally at least once a month. However, despite the coalition Government’s rhetoric about the big society, cuts in funding from central and local government are damaging the sector. It has been estimated that the voluntary sector is facing cuts of £1.1 billion just this year, rising to more than £3 billion next year. There are also real fears for the capacity of the voluntary sector. At a time when the Government are talking about localism and creating opportunities for charities and community organisations, the sector will almost certainly do less this year than in previous years.

The collaborative website, www.voluntarysectorcuts. org.uk, is mapping those cuts. One of them is a grant cut of £500,000 from the Office for Civil Society to the volunteering support organisation, TimeBank. I want to discuss that as an example of what initiatives are affected when such a cut is made. TimeBank was set up in February 2000 and was funded by the Home Office and the BBC as a support agency to inspire a new

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generation of volunteers. Its vision is to make volunteering part of the fabric of everyday life. In the past 10 years, TimeBank has helped and encouraged 30,000 people into volunteering. For example—this is a good example to consider at the moment—in 2004, TimeBank asked people to back London’s bid for the Olympics and 14,000 potential volunteers responded. That has now risen to 100,000 people who want to volunteer for the Olympics. In the same year, it recruited 1,900 people aged 20 to 35 for volunteering opportunities with hospices. In 2008, 1,400 parent volunteers were recruited to mentor other parents for Home-Start. TimeBank offers tailored support to anyone interested in volunteering or running a dedicated help desk and website. The organisation has established good practice and provides space for local, regional and national sharing of experience. It runs a dedicated help desk and website to signpost people towards volunteering opportunities and to increase accessibility and engagement.

TimeBank recently launched something called the volurater, which is a forum like TripAdvisor that allows people to review their volunteering experience. TimeBank says that the cancellation of its funding from the Office for Civil Society means that its support functions will be severely undermined. The staff and resources for that work have been paid for from the core funding that it receives from Government. All its other funding streams are ring-fenced for programme or project delivery, so the loss of £500,000 of grant funding puts a significant proportion of TimeBank’s work under threat. As I said, the volurater is a review tool for volunteers to rate their volunteering experiences. It aims to help to drive up standards in volunteering across the board and to give volunteers a voice. No other organisation has such a tool for volunteers, and it is now under threat.

Junction49 is also under threat. It is a web platform aimed at young people that acts as a type of Facebook for volunteers. It was set up in 2007, and it allows young people to share and develop ideas, and to make a difference in their communities by setting up volunteering projects. Junction49 has supported 1,145 young people, and helped them to volunteer through advice, support and connecting them with other like-minded people. TimeBank’s website and newsletter are also at risk. The website receives 16,000 new visitors a month, and is designed specifically to help people to volunteer. The website includes ideas and inspiration, such as a blog, a postcode search for local opportunities and a “how to get started” section. There is also a help desk that is contactable by phone or e-mail, with a dedicated staffing resource to answer questions about volunteering and help people along the way. TimeBank has a monthly electronic newsletter that is sent out to 300,000 volunteers whom it calls time givers, and it includes ideas and tips about volunteering. Regular social media activity—the type of things I have been describing—drives people to the website and raises awareness of volunteering issues and best practice. It also helps with recruiting volunteers and signposting volunteering opportunities.

TimeBank also runs programmes to match people with volunteer mentors. I shall mention two of those that are under threat as a result of the funding cuts. TimeBank has worked in partnership with Carers UK to develop a mentoring programme for new carers, who often feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities. Those two organisations are providing new carers with access to information and advice from a mentor who has been

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a carer themselves. A groundbreaking TimeBank project called Shoulder to Shoulder supports ex-servicemen and women returning to civilian life who have mental health problems. More than 20,000 people leave the service to return to civilian life each year, and around a quarter of those have a mental health problem. One in five of those have a mental health problem resulting from traumas and injuries that they experienced during their service.

Another valuable area of work for TimeBank is support for businesses involved in employee volunteering. Participating organisations include Sky, Virgin, Vodafone, Sony, T-Mobile and even the Cabinet Office. Years ago, I worked on such a project with the organisation, Business in the Community. I arranged community development assignments for staff from organisations and corporate companies, such as IBM and Marks & Spencer. Support for that type of volunteering from business is needed if such things are to happen. I know how valuable that is, both for the employee who volunteers and for the community organisation for which they volunteer. For instance, in 2008, TimeBank organised T-Mobile employees to help young people who are not in education, employment or training set up their own projects and design a mobile application to tackle a social issue. That work could also be under threat.

In December 2010, the Minister posted a message on Twitter congratulating TimeBank on its 10th anniversary. Cutting one sixth of its funding three months later is hardly the right way to support an organisation with a 10-year track record of innovative support for volunteering. TimeBank’s chief executive has said:

“This decision will hugely undermine the Government’s vision for a Big Society…For the past decade we have made an important contribution to mobilising an army of 300,000 volunteers and to improving the quality of volunteering across the board. Without this vital core funding we will not be able to continue to deliver the level of service that we have based our reputation on and will have to considerably reduce our activities and staff as a result.”

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): I have an example in my own constituency. Kids in Communication is a youth media group that operates KicFM, and it has recruited 5,000 volunteers in the past decade. I urge the Minister to look at that group with some urgency. It will run out of funding at the end of next week. He has previously mentioned that 50% match funding might be available. If we are going to create a big society and sustain it, we need such organisations to recruit volunteers. By rolling back the funding, the Government are decreasing the number of volunteers in society, which goes against the whole spirit of the big society.

Barbara Keeley: Indeed, and I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. I personally believe that some of the decisions to cut grant funding to organisations that support volunteering, such as TimeBank and the one that my hon. Friend has just mentioned, are difficult to understand, because Ministers have talked about encouraging social action and the need to support the community and voluntary sector. In fact, we recently had a debate on the big society in the House. The Minister said:

“I really believe that we have barely scratched the surface of what can be achieved in this country if we strike a more effective and balanced partnership between Government, business and civil society”.—[Official Report, 28 February 2011; Vol. 524, c. 131.]

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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Is the real problem that the Government do not appear to understand the role of the voluntary sector? It is often professional, well run, well organised and extremely hard-working. It brings in lots of money from charities and other places, but it absolutely relies on basic core funding in order to succeed. The Government seem to confuse it with charitable good works in small towns, and that model simply does not apply to complex, urban areas such as the one that I represent.

Barbara Keeley: Indeed. That is right, if there is an urge, as the Minister has said, to discuss partnerships between Government, business and civil society. I talked earlier about employee volunteering from business in the voluntary sector. That has to be arranged, however, because there is a big, wide cultural gap between the private sector and the voluntary sector. We cannot just leave a new business volunteer to flounder in an organisation. I used to arrange business volunteering as part of a job that I did in the past. I know that someone needs to be the link in-between, so I very much agree with my hon. Friend.

The Minister described one strand of action for the Government as

“encouraging more social action in our communities”.—[Official Report, 28 February 2011; Vol. 524, c. 132.]

How on earth is that going to happen if we cut away the infrastructure of organisations such as TimeBank?

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. She has very clearly outlined the case for volunteers in our society. Every one of us in the Chamber this morning will be aware of the work of volunteers. It seems as if Ministers are diverting money to sports, heritage and arts, and away from voluntary and charity groups and those who do good work in the community. Does she share my concern that there are more worthy cases in relation to the voluntary and charity work that is done in the community?

Barbara Keeley: Indeed. I said in my opening paragraph that in the current economic context issues such as debt advice and other ways in which people volunteer in communities and societies are crucial. Volunteering in sports organisations is important, and sport and culture are important too, but in the current context the social function of volunteering roles are vital, so I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

I shall return to the question of how the Government will encourage more social action if they close off financial support to those small—and they are small—but vital charities that support and encourage people to volunteer. I just want to touch briefly on support for carers, which is one strand of the work that TimeBank is seeking to do, and which is under threat. Support for carers is vital and will become even more so, given the cuts and uncertainty that are now affecting us as a result of proposals in the Health and Social Care Bill. Schemes such as the one developed by TimeBank are essential, and working with Carers UK to put new carers in contact with experienced carers could be a lifeline. Such a scheme helps the new carer to care more effectively, which is important in our communities.

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Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): With regard to TimeBank, is the hon. Lady aware that it is seeking to set up an initiative whereby MPs can bank their volunteering? Would she support that initiative, as I do?

Barbara Keeley: I would certainly support that, but I cannot imagine how the hon. Gentleman thinks that TimeBank will set up new projects if his Government are cutting away its infrastructure funding. It is astonishing that he should raise that today.

Chris White rose—

Barbara Keeley: No, let us leave it at that. The Minister and hon. Members have to understand that we cannot remove £500,000 of an organisation’s funding and then expect it to carry on with new initiatives. Clearly, it would not be able to do so.

I was discussing the vital scheme that TimeBank is setting up with carers. The groups with which TimeBank works are crucial in our society, but carers are in a special category. Carers who care for more than 50 hours a week are twice as likely to suffer from ill health, while those who care for a person suffering from dementia or stroke disease are even more at risk of ill health. If we do not support carers, therefore, we are causing additional health problems in our communities. In my local area, there are some 22,000 carers, one in four of whom care for more than 50 hours per week.

How are we to take initiatives if we cut the infrastructure funding for organisations? Last week, the Carers Identification and Support Bill, which I introduced, was not debated because we spent much of the time discussing a string of Bills introduced by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope). I am sure that hon. Members who are here on Fridays understand that that is a common occurrence these days. There are no new measures to support carers in the Health and Social Care Bill, so how will they be supported? Will the Minister tell us why his Government’s cuts to TimeBank have been made, as they will cause the potential loss of a new way to support carers—people who give their up so much of their lives caring for family and friends?

The debate on funding must focus on the important issue of support for the infrastructure of the voluntary sector. Organisations such as TimeBank are on the front line of finding and supporting volunteers for charities, such as hospices and the Olympics, and they help to support and mentor carers. Labour’s support helped maintain high levels of participation in volunteering. Cuts to the funding of volunteering charities will result in the organisational cutbacks that I have discussed, and which will lead to a decrease in volunteering, not an increase. I hope that the Minister will tell us today, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) encouraged him to do, that he will think again, and that some way can be found to reverse cuts which could be damaging to the cause of volunteering.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr David Amess (in the Chair): Order. I have some words of advice. Westminster Hall debates are important, and the proper procedure is for hon. Members to drop a

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note to the Chair beforehand if they wish to speak. Certainly, when I am chairing proceedings, those hon. Members will receive preference when I call speakers. If an hon. Member pops in, makes an intervention and clears off before the end of the debate, that is to be deprecated—hon. Members have to stay for the whole debate. Finally, I know which hon. Members wish to speak, but I do not know whether other hon. Members have come to the Chamber to make speeches or interventions. There are five Government Members and eight Opposition Members waiting to speak, and the winding-up speeches will begin at 10.40 am. As hon. Members have taken the trouble to be here, I would like to call everyone. However, they can do the maths as well me, so it is up to them to share the time out.

9.48 am

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I think, Mr Amess, that coming in, making an intervention and disappearing is known as doing a Spink, is it not?

It is a great pleasure to follow the very thoughtful speech made by the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley). She and I are involved as officers of the all-party group on carers. I think there is no one in this Chamber who does not support the work of volunteers and we would all like to see the maximum amount of volunteering. We all have to accept, however, that we start from a position of having to manage an enormous budget deficit. Each and every day, the Government have to spend £120 million, just on interest, to service the deficit. I did a calculation the other day. I added up all the money that the Government give to my constituency through the local district council, the money it gives in grants to Cherwell district council, Oxfordshire county council, the Oxfordshire primary care trust and Thames Valley police for the whole of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. The total equates to just 11 days’ interest on the budget deficit. We all have to put this in some sort of context.

I want to make some general comments about local government. I have come to the conclusion that the way it operates will have to change radically and fundamentally, and I shall give the House examples of that. We have had a system under which we all pay our taxes, the taxes go to the Treasury, the Treasury allocates money to local government, and local governments, from their largesse, allocate money to voluntary groups in their area, as they see fit. Voluntary groups have very much been rentiers, dependent on the largesse of local government and what it has chosen to give them. That needs to change considerably.

First, there needs to be a commitment by local government to allow much greater community scrutiny. May I give the House an example of why that is the case? On Saturday, I met with campaigners in Deddington in my constituency who want to retain their library. As we discussed the situation, it became apparent that we have in Oxfordshire a public library service, but also a schools library service, which is operated completely separately. That prompts the question, why do we need two services? What happens with back office costs? As we discussed the matter further and began talking about the mobile library, we realised that it was going to villages to which, at the same time, the GP surgery—in the village that has the library—sends transport to collect people to come into the surgery.

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As the discussion continued, it struck me that, under that system, the risk is that the greatest cuts will be made at the front end—that is, at the service end—yet no one has had an opportunity to understand the full central costs of running the services. The local authority has not been subjected to complete scrutiny so that people may make proper value judgments about whether it is ensuring that any spending reductions it has to make are fairly distributed between it and the services that it might hitherto have supported.

There is a danger that local authorities will simply retrench to their statutory obligations and duties, and say, “If we don’t have a statutory duty to do this, we won’t do it.” However, as we all know, the reality is that, for a long time, part of the fabric of society has been local authorities funding all sorts of organisations and operations that are not necessarily part of their statutory obligations.

There needs to be a new obligation on local authorities to subject themselves to much greater community scrutiny, and that would happen in part if they had to put all their expenditure online and be much more transparent about how they spend their money. Transparency is one thing, but we also need to ensure that they subject themselves to much greater scrutiny so that people can ask questions about how money is spent.

Barbara Keeley: The hon. Gentleman is talking about local authorities retrenching and cutting back on support for the voluntary sector, but I have just outlined an example of the Government doing that. Does the same duty fall on the Government when they start retrenching and substantially cutting grants to charities?

Tony Baldry: The hon. Lady is already able to scrutinise Government decisions—that is exactly what she is doing today in this Chamber. She will have the benefit of a response from my hon. Friend the Minister, whom I am sure will answer her questions about TimeBank, which is an excellent charity and an excellent initiative, in his winding-up speech. Local government needs to take a new approach to scrutiny.

My second point is about engagement. My constituency happens to have been confronted with a threat to the local general hospital. Over time, that has constructively resulted in much greater engagement between local authorities, the primary care trust and various campaigning groups, which has been incredibly successful. As a consequence, we have managed to keep the local hospital as a general hospital.

It strikes me that that is a new, organic pattern of engagement between the local authority and, importantly, its officers, and members of the voluntary and community sectors. There are no rigid demarcations as to who is accountable or who is elected. It involves people coming together constructively to try to work out what is in the best interests of the community as a whole. We need the local government, its officers and elected members to be involved in much more of that sort of broader community engagement so that there can be an ongoing discussion with the community.

My last point is that there needs to be much greater commitment on the part of local government and central Government to put opportunities to tender out to social

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enterprises and voluntary organisations, and they need to be much clearer about how that should happen. The last example from my constituency is a new social enterprise in Banbury that was set up by people who had been working for many years with offenders at Bullingdon prison who were addicted to or had a dependency on drug or substance abuse. They have been doing excellent work involving ex-offenders in therapy. They have a good, reputable board of trustees, including some eminent doctors and others, and are doing a great deal of work with people who voluntarily self-refer. However, they could do a great deal more in the rehabilitation revolution by offering their services to people who may recently have come out of custody or may be in danger of going into custody—for example, there could be referrals from the courts.

The difficulty is that there is a disconnect in the rehabilitation revolution between how such groups get referrals, who buys the services and how they buy services. If government collectively wants social enterprises to develop, there needs to be a much clearer indication of where, within the machinery of central Government and local government, organisations can buy services. Otherwise, it will be extremely difficult for social enterprises to grow because they will have no idea how they might be able to maintain a sustainable income.

We are in incredibly challenging times because of the need to tackle the budget deficit, but we also have an opportunity to rethink much of what we do and how we approach central Government and local government. In the past, there has been a completely top-down, paternalistic, dirigiste system in which a citizens advice bureau at the bottom of the pile is lucky if it gets a grant each year from the district council. We should turn that on its head. There should be a bottom-up, community-driven process of priorities so that people in Deddington or Adderbury who are concerned about their library can drive the agenda, rather than it being imposed on them from the top. We should see this as an opportunity for real change.

9.58 am

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I hope hon. Members will accept that the maths that I have done are correct. Four-minute speeches would get us all into the debate. Are you, Mr Amess, in a position to impose a four-minute limit?

Mr David Amess (in the Chair): Not officially.

Jeremy Corbyn: I look forward to your unofficial imposition of a four-minute limit.

I welcome this debate and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) on securing it. The voluntary sector is very important in our society. It is important for community cohesion and for newly arrived communities, and, in inner-urban areas such as the one I represent, it is a crucial part of the social fabric of both local government and health services. It is highly professional, efficient and well organised, and stressful for those who work in it. I am president of Voluntary Action Islington, formerly Islington voluntary action council, and a trustee of several local organisations, including Hanley Crouch community centre, Elizabeth House and a new-ish group called Light Project International, which provides weekend

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and after-school activities for young people, so I am acutely aware of and involved in the valuable work done by the voluntary sector.

The voluntary sector has always been a combination of a small amount of general fundraising from events and collections, and much larger funding from local health authorities, local government, various charitable institutions and, occasionally, business donations. That is complicated, and we should have regard and respect for those people who manage community centres and local organisations, and spend an inordinate amount of their time stressing over funds, staff and conditions, and funding applications. They spend a fantastic amount of their time completing funding application forms. An industry has grown up, with professional fundraisers offering to complete application forms and to fundraise for fixed fees or a proportion of the funds raised.

We must think through the efficiency of having highly skilled community centre managers spending sometimes 70% of their time on fundraising activities, which obviously diminishes a centre’s day-to-day work. A clearer, more defined role for local government and local health authorities in supporting and funding over a much longer period would be much more efficient. The current system is not efficient.

I have been involved in voluntary sector organisations in my constituency for a long time, and in a previous incarnation I was chair of community development in Haringey council. We developed community centres, particularly for minority ethnic communities, disability groups and others, as a way to bring in people in partnership with local authorities and health authorities. I strongly support the voluntary sector, but am sanguine about its role.

When I hear the Prime Minister talking about the big society, there seems to be a complete disconnect between my experience in inner urban London and what the voluntary sector means there, and the vision that he seems to have of fairly well-off retired people donating money to run a library and so on in a community with highly skilled people with time and money on their hands. That is not the reality of life in my community. If the council closed a library, which fortunately it has not done, and offered it to the local community to run, it would not happen, not because people do not value the library—they absolutely do—but because they do not have the time, the money or the skills necessary to do it. If we want to maintain the social fabric of our society, we must be prepared to put public money into voluntary organisations with the add-on benefit of community usage and all that goes with that. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South said, that core funding is essential.

Another point for the Minister, which I hope he will answer seriously, is the operation of the transition fund. As with every other community in the country, mine faces enormous cuts in local government expenditure and less grant money from the health authority, as well as less money from London Councils. There are great difficulties. The Government established the transition fund, but I have concerns about it. I received a good brief on it from Gerard Omasta-Milsom, director of Islington Peoples Rights, which is a very good voluntary advice agency. He says that to be eligible for the transition fund, applicants must be

“spending… 50 per cent of your total income delivering frontline… services”.

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I wish that someone would define what a front-line service is. It is easy to say that we must support people on the front line and not those in the back office, but if a community centre does not have a bookkeeper, a cleaner, a caretaker or someone to repair computers and so on, it does not work. There cannot be a simplistic distinction between the front line and the back office. It is the totality of the service that is most important.

Another condition on transition fund applicants is that they

“have approved annual accounts that are no more than 12 months old which show that… your total income for that year was between £50,000 and £10 million and”


“at least 60 per cent of your total income came from taxpayer-funded sources.”

But £50,000 is quite a lot. We set up a community chest system in Islington, which operated until the Government cuts, and the council has now set up a new but smaller community chest. It gives small grants to new, seedcorn organisations such as new Somali organisations—we have a growing Somali community in Islington. The grant may be as little as £4,000 or £5,000, and in some cases even less. When such organisations are small and have only just come into existence, a small investment goes a long way.

The briefing goes on to say that free reserves could

“pay for your organisation’s total expenditure for no more than six months.”

I do not understand that requirement. Anyone who is running an organisation must have enough money to pay for ongoing costs and redundancy costs for at least three months. I hope that the Minister will tell me two things: first, whether the transition fund will be simplified and will continue beyond this financial year and, secondly, whether, as it has been so vastly oversubscribed throughout the country, he will speak to the Chancellor and obtain more money for it.

As every other part of the Budget seems to have been leaked, there will be no harm done if the Minister tells us exactly what part of the transition fund will be made available to the voluntary sector. It is vital to put money into such organisations and to keep them going. The health, well-being and strength of communities are so important. Removing the seedcorn funding and the basic running cost is damaging, and I hope that the Government will think again about that.

10.6 am

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Amess. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) for initiating this debate. It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and the four-minute suggested time limit. He did not quite stick to it, but his maths were welcome.

The issue is an urban one, but also a rural one. I represent a large tract of rural west Wales, which has a proud history of volunteering, and I will start with the Welsh perspective. There are 30,000 groups throughout Wales, and 650,000 volunteers. It was estimated that in 2005, 54% of adults in Wales were volunteering in one way or another. Many of those groups—some 10,000—received no public funding whatever and relied on donations,

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as they had incomes of up to perhaps £10,000 a year. They ran small projects, with the emphasis on developing volunteers’ skills.

A huge number of other schemes in Wales relied on core funding in one manifestation or another, whether from our Assembly Government or through local authorities. I shall cite some examples in my constituency, and their valuable work. Many operated under the guise of a scheme initiated by our National Assembly which is called the Communities First project. It is very relevant in deprived urban communities, and in scattered rural communities. I am not sure whether it is the Liberal Democrats’ policy in the forthcoming Assembly elections to retain that project, but they should do so, because it has been a laudable success in my part of Wales.

The village of Ystrad Meurig wanted a mobile phone mast, because it did not have any reception, and it was supported in that by the Communities First project. A scheme to develop a youth club in one of my deprived wards in Aberystwyth was not short of volunteers, but it needed strategic leadership to organise and support them. I suspect that the idea that under the big society, green shoots of initiative will spring up throughout the country is far from the reality. That may happen in many cases—the hon. Member for Islington North spoke about protecting libraries, and we heard about the enthusiasm in Deddington in Oxfordshire. However, many of our communities require a lead and some measured core funding.

The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South referred to citizens advice bureaux. I have two excellent bureaux in Aberystwyth and Cardigan, and my wife is a trustee of one of them. Again, there is an abundance of volunteers, but what really worries citizens advice bureaux is the cut in the central training budgets, which affects volunteers’ ability to deliver a critical service to my constituents. We have heard about carers. I launched a project with Crossroads Care, an organisation in mid-Wales working to support carers with training, enabling them to take advantage of new flexible working structures and, when given the opportunity, return to the labour market. More than anything, carers require the stability of core funding, and I hope that the Minister will address that issue.

The Liberal Democrats held a much heralded conference in Sheffield a few weeks ago. The party was, in my view, discussing sensible proposals for the national health service, but tucked away in the agenda was a motion on volunteerism. That might seem peripheral, but it is a helpful pointer to show what can be done. I suggest that the Minister look at a couple of points raised in a paper that we debated, which was launched by my noble Friend Baroness Barker. The paper pointed out that we do not always make the most of opportunities available for funding the voluntary sector. In October last year, a report by ResPublica described the system of gift aid as an “antiquated” bureaucracy, and pointed out that digital processing of gift aid could be worth £750 million to charities. The Minister was present at that launch, and he indicated that he would think about the proposal. Is there any news on that?

The report also suggested that charities should make more use of social networking to raise funds. Many charities have done good work using social networking,

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but many others have not. We suggest a fund to provide a social networking school for charities: in other words—yes—public funds to encourage charities and give them the training and expertise that they need. We cannot hide from the fact that voluntary sector budgets will face cuts as a result of cuts to public spending, but local authorities have shown that the way in which such cuts are managed can have a major impact. I do not want to get into a debate about £16 billion of cuts by this party or £14 billion by that party, and the effect on the voluntary sector. Nevertheless, the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) was right to make a point about transparency. People and communities need to see the situation and put pressure on local authorities to drive the agenda as they see fit. That is a wise initiative.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): On local authority funding, we must understand why communities with the greatest deprivation are suffering the highest cuts. Transparency is required on that issue.

Mr Williams: I do not deviate from that message at all. My constituency includes communities with high rates of deprivation, so that is a strong point. As has been stated, however, the role of this debate and of Parliament is to allow hon. Members to challenge the Minister, and the hon. Lady has done so effectively in her intervention.

I would like to hear more from the Minister on the big society bank. I note his written statement, and I agree with what the hon. Member for Islington North said about the limitations of the transition fund, particularly the scale of that fund, which is oversubscribed. It would be a tragedy if some of our voluntary organisations were allowed to wither because of its limitations.

The written statement published this week talks about “developing a proposal”, “engaging with the sector”, “further development work” and talking to the European Commission about state aid approval. Impatience with this matter has been well articulated by the voluntary sector, and I would appreciate it if the Minister indicated what time scale he is working to. In reality, the big society bank seems to be some way off. There are concerns about the ability to defend charities and the voluntary sector from local authorities. The transition fund is over-subscribed. The stakes are high and there is a mixed message about how the voluntary sector can respond.

There is a great deal of support for the principles behind the big society, if not the term itself. It was noticeable that our Sheffield motion did not contain one reference to the big society, although volunteerism was described as “principled.” There will be unanimity across the Chamber on the role that volunteers can—and should—play in our society, working co-operatively with local authorities to deliver meaningful services to people on the ground. There are still huge, immediate concerns about funding, and I hope that the Minister will allay some of those concerns in his response to the debate.

10.15 am

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) for securing this debate. I will try to be brief. The Minister and I have already debated

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the future of the voluntary sector in Nottingham. As he knows, I believe that the Government are cutting public spending too far and too fast, and I have already mentioned my concern that the cuts are not being distributed fairly. The cuts will have a devastating impact on the city that I represent, and those who will bear the brunt of that impact are the very people least able to withstand it.

A number of hon. Members have expressed concerns about the limitations of the transition fund. Given the time scale involved, that fund will not protect the services that people rely on, the jobs of those working in the voluntary sector, or volunteering opportunities. In the short time available, I would like to focus on that last aspect.

The Government have stated that a key objective of the big society is to encourage and enable people to play a more active role in society. It is therefore incomprehensible and strange to make cuts that undermine the organisations that provide such opportunities. Nottingham has a volunteer centre that supports groups to recruit and retain volunteers, as well as helping volunteers to find suitable placements. In the past year, the centre matched about 2,500 people with volunteering opportunities in the city. In less than two weeks, however, all funding to support volunteering in Nottingham will end. The volunteer centre is particularly affected by the scrapping of the working neighbourhood fund and the national youth volunteering programme, which is called vinvolved. Eight members of staff will lose their jobs.

In Nottingham, over half of the volunteer centre’s service users are aged 25 or under; 16% of those supported by the v project last year were classed as NEET—not in education, employment or training. At a time of record youth unemployment, when one in five young people are unable to find work, it is counter-productive and short-sighted to cut that vital link to skills, training and confidence for the most disadvantaged groups. Figures released last week by the House of Commons Library show that over 3,500 young people aged 24 and under in Nottingham constituencies claim jobseeker’s allowance. In some areas, 19 young people are chasing every vacancy advertised by Jobcentre Plus.

The Government’s decisions do not only affect young people, and 40% of those who come to the volunteer centre are out of work. The loss of the service will reduce the opportunities available for people to retrain and improve their skills and employability, and it will also deprive organisations of volunteers who could help to deliver vital services. On CSV “Make a Difference Day”, I helped out at the local Barnardo’s shop. I talked to the volunteers, some of whom had become staff, and I heard how important volunteering was, particularly for people who were returning to work after a long period caring for a family, those getting into work, and those with learning difficulties or a disability. Taking away that opportunity removes that stepping stone into work.

Unfortunately, as hon. Members have mentioned, many local community and voluntary sector groups are unsure about the future of their own services. They will also lose the capacity to recruit and train volunteers. For most organisations, fewer paid staff means fewer volunteers, not more. I hope that the Minister appreciates that cutting resources to organisations that provide people with work and life experiences, skills training

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and support, is not sensible, practical or affordable. Finally, I invite the Minister to visit the volunteer centre in Nottingham so that he can see the outstanding work being done, hear what people have to say, and learn why they are so worried about the future of volunteering in the city, and about the future of the unemployed and vulnerable under this Government.

10.19 am

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): I, too, am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. The issue affects a range of communities, including in my own constituency.

We all appreciate that these are difficult economic times and that it is tough to find savings, but the first message that we should be sending out from the debate, and one that I support my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in articulating, is that local authorities should consider every other available saving before reducing support to our voluntary services. We should be squeezing budgets, sharing services, cutting back-office institutions, generating efficiencies and trying to get maximum value for money in procurement before we even begin to consider reducing funding for voluntary organisations. Warwickshire county council, for example, has cut its youth service budget, yet it has so far made only a 2% reduction in staffing. That is not how it should be. Every local authority should view reducing spending on voluntary organisations as a last resort.

Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): In my experience, quite a lot of councils have risen to the challenge from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. My local borough council in Castle Point has gone so far as to cut members’ allowances this year to secure the funding for Crossroads, the Association of Voluntary Services and the citizens advice bureau, because it recognises their importance to the local community. Many councils are doing a very good job in that regard.

Chris White: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. It is clear that her council is a very good example of best practice.

Emma Reynolds: Has not the chair of the Local Government Association, who is a Conservative, said that the cuts imposed by central Government on local government go way beyond efficiency savings and will therefore necessarily put local government in the impossible position of having to cut some services?

Chris White: I refer the hon. Lady to the fact that these are difficult economic times, which were not brought about by the coalition, and something needs to be done. At the moment, I do not see the Opposition doing anything at all to begin to address some of these issues.

Voluntary services in a range of areas, from welfare to social care and from youth services to health care, enable the public sector to reduce “failure demand”, which is one of the biggest costs to the taxpayer. Because we fail to do the right thing the first time, we end up having to make more expensive interventions further down the line. That is not the right approach to providing services. Local authorities should work with the voluntary sector to use its expertise and understanding of the needs of service users to build better platforms. Although

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voluntary organisations can be a short-term expense, they can also generate significant savings in the long term. If anything, we should seek to shift funding towards voluntary organisations, rather than taking funding away from them.

An excellent report by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations called “Replacing the State?” gave four strong reasons why voluntary organisations are better placed to provide services than traditional in-house bodies. They are local and focus on the needs of their users, rather than on what is best for providers. They have higher levels of co-ordination, as they have a community-wide focus. They command a high level of public trust. They are incredibly innovative and able radically to change the delivery of services for the better.

There is an even plainer economic argument. Voluntary organisations are already saving the public sector more than £20 billion in staffing costs, given the fact that 17.1 million people volunteered in 2010. If we cut the funding on offer to the sector, we will reduce the infrastructure that channels those volunteers, either leaving people without services or leaving the public sector having to hire paid staff. I believe that if we integrate voluntary organisations further into public service delivery, we will not only see long-term costs go down, but we will be able to secure the future of many important groups throughout the country—something that can benefit all our local communities.

10.24 am

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) on obtaining the debate. In the short time available, I will consider two areas. The first is the cuts to the advice sector throughout the country and the complexity of the funding for that sector. Local authority funding constitutes the building blocks on which a local bureau or a local advice centre works, although such places have a range of other funding. The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux has recently published a report to show that, throughout the country, bureaux face on average a 15% cut. There are some notable exceptions, both good and bad, but a simple salami-slicing approach has been taken in a number of cases. Local authorities have not appreciated the cost to them of cutting those services—when the services go, people end up on their doorstep in a worse position.

Jim Shannon: Does the hon. Lady agree that a time of economic austerity, when the demands on citizens advice bureaux are greater than ever before, is a time not to cut funding for CAB and the work that they do, but to encourage them and give them more funding?

Yvonne Fovargue: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I completely agree.

Also at risk was the funding for face-to-face debt advice, which has been given a year’s reprieve, although there are still arguments about the management costs centrally. It is proposed that social welfare law should go out of the scope of legal aid funding at the very time when we are introducing a new welfare system. Many

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bureaux have funding from primary care trusts, which are also going. Advice agencies could disappear—97% of law centre funding is under threat. I make this plea to the Minister: will he please look across the board and bring all the Departments together when they consider the funding for advice services? Otherwise, the cuts to each Department will affect that sector particularly badly.

I also want to consider my local services in Makerfield borough. Makerfield and Wigan benefit from 24,900 volunteer hours a week, and 68,835 people benefit from the services provided. Those volunteers need the support of paid staff and, often, the support of the infrastructure organisations. We would not expect any employee to work without the support of management and without a decent regime of health and safety, supervision and career development, so why do we expect volunteers to do that? That is what the cuts mean—the volunteers will not be there without the support of those paid staff.

Central Government are looking at cutting the infrastructure organisations. One particular concern for my local council for voluntary service is the vinvolved funding. Over three years, the vinvolved project in Wigan has dealt with 1,071 youths, most of whom were classified as NEET—not in education, employment or training. There has been a significant reduction in repeat antisocial behaviour orders for that group and an increase in the number of people going into work. Cutting that programme will leave those youths with nowhere to go. They will be back on street corners in the neighbourhoods that have previously complained about them. It is so important to young people that they be brought into volunteering. My local branch of Age Concern has pointed out to me the value of bringing those young people into its organisation and the cross-generational work that that has engendered.

Emma Reynolds: Is it not sheer madness for the Government to cut vinspired when youth unemployment is at record levels?

Yvonne Fovargue: Absolutely. My local CVS managed the future jobs fund in my borough, and youth unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds was reduced by 56% in 2010 as a result. It halved the number of jobseekers from 900 to 450 in that period. To cut that at this time, when young people are coming out of education and training without a job to look forward to, is sheer folly.

I do not believe that the big society is new—in my borough or in any other borough—but I do believe that, due to the cuts, it is becoming the shrinking society, which is dangerous.

10.28 am

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) on securing the debate. I want to follow what seemed to me to be her theme—what on earth are the Government playing at? In their wholesale rush to get rid of everything that the Labour Government did, they are destroying structures that would help to deliver the big society. I shall talk specifically, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), about vinvolved—the national young volunteers service. Its aim was to get 500,000 young people into volunteering.

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It developed out of millennium volunteers and was directly funded by the Government. It has eight days left to be saved.

The initiative was funded by the Government and run by v, the independent charity. There were 107 vinvolved teams nationally. Its focus was on creating new volunteering opportunities, including working with community and voluntary organisations, to create more high-quality, diverse volunteer opportunities for young people; supporting local organisations that work with young volunteers; brokering 16 to 25-year-olds into volunteering opportunities; finding the right opportunities for new and existing volunteers; helping young people to set up their own voluntary projects; and championing youth-led action, with each team including a youth action team made up of young volunteers giving advice on what projects and work vinvolved teams should get involved in.

What happened? Young people were matched to opportunities that suited their interests and aspirations, and that were sensitive to their individual circumstances. That was particularly important for young people with multiple barriers to participation—for example, people leaving care, asylum seekers, refugees and people with mental health issues. The vinvolved project particularly targeted young people who would not normally be involved in volunteering and who faced great difficulties in their lives. Such young people were at risk of being socially marginalised. However, apart from the effect on the young people themselves, there is also a real cost to society when young people are no longer part of it and have additional needs, which society must then tackle.

In matching young people with appropriate and fulfilling volunteering opportunities, which in turn acted as a stepping-stone for their progression, vinvolved allowed many young people to find a new, positive direction. The project enhanced employability and provided references for young people who had problems and who may never have completed their secondary education. Those young people may have had nobody in their lives to provide a reference for them, but they got one through their volunteering opportunities. The project also supported those at risk of social exclusion, increasing their confidence, helping to overcome feelings of isolation and loneliness, and improving community relations as young people from different communities came together to work across communities and with people from different backgrounds, including with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people, and black and minority ethnic young people. I should add that the voluntary work brokered by Manchester vinvolved equates to £232,380—I like the precise figure it has produced—based on salaries at the national minimum wage.

I could speak for a great deal longer about vinvolved, but I am aware of the time. I could also speak for a long time about the wonderful young people who have been involved in the project, whom I had the honour of meeting at an awards event for Greater Manchester a few weeks ago. Those young people have overcome their disabilities and other issues, such as the need to care for relations or the fact that they have come from broken homes or experienced homelessness, and they have gone on to contribute enormously to the society they live in. Without projects such as vinvolved, such young people will not get involved in volunteering, because they need organisations to support them, bring

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them together and give them the chance to make a difference to their lives and the lives of people in the community.

The vinvolved initiative is the sort of project that the Government need if they are ever to deliver their big society. I agree with my hon. Friends that we already have the big society, but if we want to extend and expand it, we must have projects that support the voluntary sector and that help young people and adults into volunteering. There are only eight days left to save vinvolved, and I really hope that the Minister will act so that we can continue a project that serves the needs of young people and their communities in such a splendid way.

Mr David Amess (in the Chair): I call Catherine McKinnell.

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): I am here to listen to the debate and to contribute where necessary, Mr Amess, but I have not prepared a speech.

Mr David Amess (in the Chair): I apologise. I am embarrassed, because we have six minutes left before the winding-up speeches. Does anyone else want to contribute?

Catherine McKinnell: I could certainly make a contribution, Mr Amess. You simply took me by surprise.

Mr David Amess (in the Chair): In that case, I call Catherine McKinnell.

10.34 am

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) on securing this important debate. It has been very instructive to listen to the contributions made from both sides of the Chamber.

People in Newcastle are concerned about the speed with which the local authority cuts have been imposed and about the impact that that has had on the voluntary sector and support for it. Newcastle is one of the cities that has a thriving citizens advice bureau service, and it served more than 26,000 people last year, but it has now received a 20% salami-sliced funding cut, which is one of the worst cuts to services in the country.

The issue remains very much the speed with which the cuts have been imposed on local authorities, as well as their impact on different regions, particularly urban areas, where cuts to funding to combat deprivation have had a disproportionate impact—for example, in cities such as Newcastle upon Tyne.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): Clearly, all Members in the Chamber share the view that the volunteering sector is important, but while listening to Opposition Members’ contributions I had the strong feeling that we have created an over-dependence on the public sector for volunteering organisations’ funding in the past 10 years. That over-dependence is as much about creating a big state as it is about creating a big society.

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Does the hon. Lady agree that many of the best organisations working with local communities—certainly in constituencies such as mine—are free from Government intervention and Government funding? The point has been strongly made that there are bureaucratic issues in volunteering when organisations depend on Government funding. We need to create a society in which people volunteer, but do not depend on Government funding to do so.

Catherine McKinnell: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s assertion. I agree that there are some fantastic voluntary organisations that do not rely on any public funding. They are supported, and have to be supported, across the country, and they are warmly welcomed. However, one of the main issues is that the abilities of those organisations are not necessarily distributed in such as way as to target the most hard-to-reach areas, which require more structured funding to support and assist voluntary activities. That point has been made very clearly by my hon. Friends and, indeed, by Government Members.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): There might be another interpretation of the points raised by the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), which is that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between the voluntary sector and the state, and of the importance of funding in ensuring that the voluntary sector has had the capacity to thrive over the past 13 years. One of the dangers now is that services will be affected when funding is taken away and that the capacity to thrive, as well as the voluntary sector’s ability to deliver activities and to be a voice for many people in our communities, will be damaged. Some of the comments that we have heard reflect a misunderstanding of why it is so important to support the voluntary sector if we want volunteering to thrive and if we want to tap into all the benefits it offers our society.

Catherine McKinnell: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. That is exactly the point that needs to be made. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South said at the beginning of the debate, there is genuine concern that we need to understand how the voluntary sector works, how it is funded and how it is supported. There is huge concern about the Government’s pursuit of an economic policy that is reducing the deficit at a rate that is too fast, that is reckless and that will cause long-term damage to our civil society.

I want to put those issues on the record. The voluntary sector in Newcastle continues to thrive, but it sits in sheer trepidation, because most organisations have no security of funding beyond the end of this month.

Barbara Keeley: Before my hon. Friend finishes, does she agree that we could characterise this debate as one in which Government Members have hectored and lectured local authorities about not cutting grants to voluntary organisations in their areas, even though Ministers are cutting the number of their strategic partners from 42 to 14, and cutting their funding, too? Is it not inappropriate for coalition Government Members to lecture local authorities about what they must and must not do, when they themselves are scything away the infrastructure of the voluntary sector?

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Catherine McKinnell: Absolutely. The point could not have been put more clearly. I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this important debate.

10.40 am

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): May I say how delighted I am to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess? I begin by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) for securing this extremely timely debate. Its timeliness is evidenced by the large number of Members here this morning.

At this time, up and down the country, voluntary and community-based organisations are extremely concerned about their funding situation. Some, sadly, are trying to cope with vastly reduced budgets for next year and uncertainty as to whether they can even continue to operate. My hon. Friend in her amazingly comprehensive contribution, pointed to Labour’s proud record of supporting the voluntary sector—in contrast, I think, to the withdrawal of funding we see from the coalition parties. She used the cuts to TimeBank as an example of how that withdrawal will affect volunteering and volunteering support organisations. I want to speak about TimeBank in a minute or two.

My hon. Friend also emphasised the importance of supporting advice services, particularly in today’s economic climate. My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) stressed that issue in what I thought was a very passionate contribution. My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South also reminded us, as she often does, of the need to continue to support carers. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) hit the nail on the head when he said that this Government simply do not understand the nature of the modern-day voluntary sector and its wide range of activities, or the complexity that exists in the neighbourhoods in which it operates or the complexity of the problems that it must face.

Guto Bebb: On that point, did not the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) highlight the complexity of the funding system put in place by the Labour Government?

Roberta Blackman-Woods: Actually, I think the point my hon. Friend made was that the current Government do not understand the nature of the modern-day voluntary sector. That point was emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) in her spontaneous but extremely informed—if I may say—contribution. If he will forgive me for saying so, the contribution from the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) verified the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North. Other Members also made useful points, which I will deal with as I go through my speech.

I want to emphasise two things at the outset. First, in government, as in opposition, Labour knew that the deficit had to be reduced, but, crucially, we would not have cut so deeply or so quickly. Evidence seems to suggest that it is the up-front cuts to local government and central Government Departments that are proving so damaging to the voluntary sector. We know that it is some of our poorest areas with the highest levels of

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need that are facing the largest cuts. That point was excellently made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), who spoke about the huge impact the cuts to the voluntary sector will have on her constituency.

Secondly, it seems particularly unfair to ask more of the voluntary sector in terms of delivering services and filling gaps in provision, while cutting the resource base of a range of civil society groups. It has led the National Council for Voluntary Organisations to conclude:

“The scale and speed of the cuts affecting the voluntary and community sector are severe and there is a very real danger that the sector will not be in any fit state to contribute to the ‘Big Society’ unless further action is taken.”

I can see little evidence that the Government are taking that further action.

The Government often raise the transition fund, which was mentioned by Members today, as the mechanism for plugging the gap. However, it is restrictive in coverage and demands significant change from a great many organisations—for example, they must become social enterprises—and a huge number of the 1,700 applications are still being assessed. Other funding that may reach the sector in future, such as that from the big society bank, is unlikely to be made available early enough to prevent some organisations from going under, regardless of how useful they are to their local communities, and we heard examples of that today. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) made a passionate speech about vinvolved in her constituency and the need for it to continue to support young people’s volunteering. Cuts are being made regardless of how good organisations are at providing services or supporting volunteers.

We have had some indication of what the impact of the cuts will be. The sector receives £12.8 billion from a range of statutory sources, and about 52% of that comes from local authorities. Overwhelmingly, that is in the form of contracts for services delivered, rather than grants. I am not sure that Government Members picked up that point. Although it is difficult to put a precise figure on the totality of the cuts affecting the sector nationally and locally, the available estimates put it at somewhere between £3.2 billion and £5.1 billion. That is a huge sum, and a substantial proportion of the sector’s income from statutory sources. At the same time, giving is £700 million less than its pre-recession level, so the gap is not being plugged by another source. The end of transitional relief on gift aid in April 2011 will cost the sector at least £100 million, and the increase in the main rate of VAT to 20% will cost the sector an estimated £150 million per year. This adds up to a range of cuts and cost-saving measures by the Government that are impacting on the sector’s ability to deliver.

The Government want to encourage more services to be delivered by employee-owned companies, mutuals, co-operatives and social enterprises. Of course, Opposition Members are not against that as a general policy direction, especially as it is one that we started while in government. We are against the rushed withdrawal of funding from organisations without time for them to develop new sources of funding and without a framework to help them to manage the transition from a charity or partner in service delivery with the local council to a social enterprise or something similar. That transition takes time, support and resources.

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There seems to be a particular willingness on the part of Government to cut infrastructure organisations such as TimeBank, Volunteering England, local CVSs and similar agencies. Where organisations directly support volunteers, drastic cuts might be very short-sighted indeed, especially when the previous citizenship survey showed a reduction in the number of people volunteering. We need to have more volunteering support organisations, or at least support the ones we have adequately. TimeBank and Volunteering England do an excellent job at supporting volunteer development, so why dismantle tried and tested methods of effective volunteer support in the vague hope that something might become available in future?

We know from the Charity Commission that voluntary organisations employ approximately 780,000 staff, supported by 2.7 million volunteers who help them to fulfil their aims. It appears that the Government want to rely on volunteers more and more, but they do not always recognise that volunteers need to be trained and encouraged. The cuts agenda may put at risk the key planks of support for volunteers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South told us how Labour has supported the voluntary sector. We understand it and value it, particularly its expertise and flexibility, and its ability to innovate. Before Labour left office, we set out radical plans to boost funding for volunteers and to make asset-transfers to the third sector. We designed the social investment wholesale bank, which was ready for launch, and launched the social impact bond. We also supported the move for more mutuals and co-ops. We would like to see the Government building on that agenda, not dismantling it. We do not want to see the sector devastated by unnecessarily deep and rapid cuts, that at worst will merely provide an opportunity for the further marketisation of our public services.

10.50 am

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): It is a great pleasure, Mr Amess, to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) on securing the debate and on the way that she spoke. However, special congratulations are in order for the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on thinking so quickly on her feet, and on representing so sincerely sentiments that I heard directly only a few weeks ago in Newcastle from people concerned about what is going on.

The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South spoke passionately about TimeBank, and tried to make some wider points. I know that she has a particular interest in carers, and has done some distinguished work in this place since being elected on that important agenda. The leadership of TimeBank is here, and those people are probably shooting daggers at me; we shall meet soon to discuss the decision, but of course they will not agree with it.

I shall start with the specifics before going on to wider matters. I make no apology for rationalising the Office for Civil Society strategic partner programme. We inherited a situation with more than 40 strategic partners and almost as many civil servants, at a cost of some £12 million a year. I could not see what value the

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taxpayer was getting from that programme, and I received a lot of support from within the sector to rationalise it.

The intention to rationalise was communicated to all strategic partners in July 2010. As a result, all partners were effectively at risk of seeing some reduction in their funding. We announced yesterday that we would be reducing it to nine organisations or partnerships, and I am satisfied with the mix. The simple fact is that no organisation has the right to be a strategic partner of the Government. The right has to be earned, and the process must be run robustly and professionally by civil servants, I received a recommendation about those nine organisations, but unfortunately TimeBank was not included. I do not expect it to like that decision, but it was a robust process which I think was run properly.

Barbara Keeley rose—

Mr Hurd: May I finish my point about figures, because it is perhaps the most important? Does it mean that TimeBank and other organisations that are working hard to manage and structure volunteering opportunities and inspiring people to volunteer will have no further opportunity to access taxpayers’ money? Of course not. I refer the hon. Lady and all with an interest in the subject to the recently published Giving Green Paper, which will lead to a White Paper. In it, we made it clear that we will be investing in a volunteering infrastructure programme with voluntary match funding, which will be worth about £40 million over this Parliament. There will be opportunities for TimeBank and other organisations to add value to those programmes.

Barbara Keeley: As the Minister is touching on his reasons for cutting away at the infrastructure of an organisation that supports volunteering for hospices, for the Olympics and for carers, I invite him to explain exactly why—beyond a departmental goal to rationalise the number of strategic partners—the Government are cutting away at a vital organisation? The same question could be asked about others. TimeBank is crucial to supporting volunteering, and has an excellent 10-year track record. Indeed, he sent it a message when it achieved its 10-year anniversary. Why is he doing this?

Mr Hurd: I tried to explain why earlier. We ran a process to identify a shorter list of strategic partners, with criteria; TimeBank and other organisations on a longer list did not make it through that process. As I said, no organisation has the right to be a strategic partner of the Government, but I do not expect them to be comfortable with that.

I have to tell the hon. Lady that her approach is symptomatic of the previous Government’s approach to public money. There was absolutely no rigour in the strategic partner programme that we inherited; we are trying to introduce it for the first time. The hon. Lady speaks about our cutting funding, but she completely ignores the fact that there will be further opportunities, in what are frankly more appropriate programmes, for organisations such as TimeBank to access taxpayers’ money and continue their work.

Barbara Keeley rose—

Mr Hurd: I wish to make progress.

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The wider context is extremely important. It is not just about TimeBank, or the other organisations mentioned by the hon. Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds). There is considerable concern in communities across the country about the impact of the cuts.

It would have been nice to have heard more recognition from the Opposition about the economic context, but that fell to my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White). The fact is that we are spending £120 million a day in interest, and that is entirely unsustainable. A sector that receives £13 billion of taxpayers’ money cannot be immune from the process.

The public hate to see politicians playing the blame game, and I understand that, but nor should we take them for fools. I believe that they understand the basics—that the Labour Government left this country massively over-borrowed and that the coalition Government were elected to sort it out. That means that tough choices have to be made by councils. As my hon. Friends the Members for Warwick and Leamington and for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) said, some have decided to give priority to cutting internal costs and making efficiencies before making cuts in the voluntary and community sectors. Others have taken a different course for very different reasons.

No one pretends that it is an easy business—it is not—but the Government want to put in place active programmes to help the voluntary and community sector manage the transition. We understand the need for such a transition—from a situation in which too many organisations depend on state income to one in which the sector will have to diversify its sources of income in new ways.

We want to help manage the transition because we see big opportunities for the voluntary and community sector to do more to deliver more public services, and to have a bigger voice at the local level, exactly the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury. In future, there will be many more arguments about local priorities, and the voluntary and community sector can give a voice to people who often struggle to have their voices heard. The localism agenda will give them a big opportunity. We are obviously very ambitious in our wish to encourage people to give more time and money to help others.

Jeremy Corbyn rose—

Mr Hurd: I do not have time to give way.

People will go to charities and the voluntary sector. There are significant medium and long-term opportunities for the sector, but we have to help manage the short-term transition.

That brings me to the transition fund and the specific questions raised by the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). Most of the answers are contained in the basic statement. The fund had to be rationed. It had to be targeted on those organisations most vulnerable to a cut in public grant or contract. We took advice from the sector on the criteria. We had to set an income threshold.

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We are proud of the progress that BIG fund has managed for us. I visited an organisation yesterday that has benefited from it. The charities’ fund is £100 million, and it was topped up yesterday by £7 million from the Department of Health. That is serious money, and it will help organisations that are particularly vulnerable, or that have more than 60% of income vulnerability to the state, to make the transition.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) asked about the big society bank. It is not a panacea for cuts in grant. It is a serious strategic long-term intervention, designed to make it easier for the sector to access capital. I expect between £60 million and £100 million from dormant bank accounts to be released in the third quarter and be made available for deployment. I expect £200 million to come from the four major banks before the end of the year. The balance of the bank’s capitalisation will come from the rest of the dormant bank accounts, once they have passed through the state aid process, but it is difficult to pin that down at the moment.

We are talking about a £600 million opportunity—a serious attempt to make it easier for social entrepreneurs to access capital in this country. It is part of our programme to help the voluntary and community sector play a full role; it will help to build a stronger society, which we want to encourage, and a better partnership between the state, business, the voluntary and community sector, and active citizens who feel empowered to take more control over their lives.

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Steel Industry (Carbon Floor Pricing)

11 am

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Amess, for the opportunity to take part in the debate today. I am so grateful for the attendance of Members with an interest in steel, which shows the strength of feeling on the issue.

I put in for the debate after one of my regular visits to Llanwern steelworks in my constituency. There has been a steelworks plant at Llanwern since 1962. Although steel making ceased in 2001, Tata at Llanwern is still a major employer with a hot strip mill and a galvanising line run by an extremely enthusiastic work force who make a high-quality product for the automotive industry, among others.

The industry has had ups and downs over the years, with the loss of the heavy end and heavy job losses in 2001, but the dedicated work force produce a high-quality product. Tata’s investment down the road in Port Talbot, to which Llanwern is inextricably linked, means that at the moment things are looking good and employment is back up to around 700. This is a good-news story, but the threat to the steel industry from Government legislation is making the industry wary, and I want to explore that today.

I am also glad to be introducing the debate because on two occasions in the past week the issue of carbon floor pricing has been raised: in the Welsh Grand Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), and in the all-party group on energy-intensive industries. Startlingly, there was no Government response in either forum to address the industry’s concerns. I hope that today’s short debate will give the Minister the chance to hear the very real concerns and address them in person so that the industry knows where it stands.

Although “steel” appears in the glamorous title of the debate, the issues apply equally to other intensive energy users such as the paper, glass and ceramics industries, which employ about 225,000 workers in the UK. The issue that concerns the industry is the carbon floor price, which might be introduced in today’s Budget, although the Minister will know more about that than I do.

The Conservative manifesto pledged to reform the climate change levy to introduce a carbon floor price or a stability mechanism so that the total cost of carbon for generators could be more certain. A policy seems to have developed in practice that increases the cost of carbon for UK electricity generators, yet is seen as another tax on the fuel used by generators. The Government’s stated aim for the carbon floor price is to boost investment in low-carbon energy, especially in nuclear power, by putting a minimum price on carbon through taxing fuels used for generating electricity according to carbon intensity. That pushes up the cost of producing electricity from high-carbon fuels such as coal, making renewable and low-carbon means of electricity generation relatively cheaper. UK energy-intensive producers will therefore face huge cost increases that will not be borne by other competitors elsewhere in Europe or the rest of the world.

The UK steel industry’s submission to the consultation makes it clear that the carbon floor price is the wrong policy for three reasons. First, multiple regulations are

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trying to fix individual problems in lots of different ways. Carbon is already priced through the European Union emissions trading scheme, the climate change levy and the carbon reduction commitment, alongside the renewable subsidies. Secondly, it runs the very real risk of having a negative impact on the competitiveness of UK manufacturers—a disincentive to invest in the UK. Finally, the industry claims it is questionable whether the policy will deliver the desired outcome at all.

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): I thank the hon. Lady for giving way and for securing this important debate. Does she agree that many of the industries we are talking about are owned by foreign companies, which can choose where to invest, so if the UK adopts policies different from those of the rest of the world, that will simply drive those industries out of this country?

Jessica Morden: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his well-made point, which covers the precise subject of the debate. I shall return to it.

We all know we have to reduce our carbon footprint, but industries such as steel use large amounts of power out of necessity and have no other realistic option at the moment. In the steel industry in my constituency, I see an industry that supports plans to make the transition to a low-carbon economy and is actively trying to be involved in being part of the solution to reduce CO2 emissions. For Tata, that might involve developing products and improving processes such as the £60 million basic oxygen steelmaking—BOS—gas recovery investment it has made at its Port Talbot plant, which will have great benefits for us at Llanwern, or products such as the photovoltaic project being developed in Shotton.

It is worth remembering that to build low-carbon energy sources, improve energy efficiency and drive advancements in low-carbon construction, steel will be in high demand. Steel is a high-carbon industry in its production, but an essential product for the low-carbon economy.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Has my hon. Friend seen scrap metal being recycled in an electric arc furnace? An element powered up to 2,000° of heat plunges into it and recycles instantly, but that requires a huge amount of electricity and energy. I understand where the Government are coming from, but unless they find a solution to the problem, their proposals might have the perverse effect of making that unprofitable, and their welcome focus on manufactures and exports—there is a demand—might come to nought. For the first time in 17 years as MP for Rotherham I am desperately worried about the future of electric arc furnace steel manufacture in our country. We must find a tweak and a solution to the problem, so I welcome my hon. Friend securing the debate.

Jessica Morden: I welcome my right hon. Friend’s intervention. Steel making is an incredibly beautiful process. His point is that we must ensure balance and that the new tax does not drive heavy industry out of this country.

Steel is a high-carbon industry in its production, but an essential product for a low-carbon economy. Surely we all want the UK’s low-carbon economy to be built

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with steel produced in the UK, not imported from China, Russia, Ukraine and other steel-producing countries that do not face the same regulatory restraints.

The industry would say that there is consensus for some regulation in this area, but that current policies are complex and over-burdensome. As I have said, if carbon floor pricing goes ahead, there will be four prices on carbon—the carbon floor price, the climate change levy, the carbon reduction commitment emissions trading scheme, and the renewable subsidies—but no consistent way of measuring carbon as between those. The industry argues that if the Government are to price carbon, they must make it simpler for everybody involved.

The major issue, to which the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) alluded, is competitiveness. The debate takes place in the context of escalating costs for UK steel producers from existing UK and EU climate policies that are eroding their international competitiveness. Nobody else in Europe or the world will face those costs, which is a threat to UK steel. The Government are asking the private sector, especially manufacturing, to create jobs, but that will not happen if we impose certain conditions and have carbon leakage. Manufacturers will choose to go to parts of the world where they can get away with less stringent conditions. They will be able to produce steel with the same amount of emissions and we will have lost the industry. Where is the sense in that? That applies not only to some developing countries, but, most worryingly, to Europe. No other EU Government are making similar proposals, and many have taken steps to reduce the impact on trade-exposed industries precisely to avoid the problem.

The figures are quite stark. Tata Steel estimates that by 2020 the cost of carbon floor pricing will add at least an extra £20 million per year to its energy bill. I also draw the Minister’s attention to the Waters Wye report, which documents the cumulative impact of all climate change policies on heavy energy users.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): My hon. Friend has secured a very important debate and she is making an excellent argument for the steel industry. Is she aware that we now have a 14-month high in the inflation rate, with the retail prices index running at 5.5%? That is pushing sterling to a much higher rate than previously. Coupled with current commodity prices, particularly for coke and iron ore, there is already a strain on the industry.

Jessica Morden: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I am sure the Minister will address. My hon. Friend is, of course, quite an expert in this field.

Tata’s submission to the consultation on carbon floor pricing also questions the effectiveness of the measure, claiming that it will have only a limited impact on reducing carbon emissions, even though its cost is real and direct. Tata’s submission suggests better ways to achieve lower emissions, which I will not go into now, but I draw the Minister’s attention to the submission and ask that further consultation with the industry be pursued.

I also ask the Minister to address several other points. It would be helpful if he outlined how the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has worked with the Treasury and the Department of Energy and Climate Change to limit the impact on intensive energy users of

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the proposals for carbon floor pricing and of the wider electricity market reform. Does he accept that the Government’s proposals will have a serious impact on the competitiveness of key industries? If so, does he understand how such an impact will directly conflict with the Government’s policies on private sector growth and an export-led recovery?

How do the Government intend to ensure that these measures do not impact on the competitiveness of UK manufacturers? Given that there was only a very short time for consultation—I believe it was about six to eight weeks over Christmas—will the Government at least commit to carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the impact on energy-intensive industries of their proposals for electricity market reform and a carbon floor price? Many organisations raised fears about the proposals during the consultation, including the Engineering Employers Federation, the CBI, the TUC and the Energy Intensive Users Group. Has the Minister taken their views on board and are the Government listening?

Finally, in fairness to the steel industry, I must say that I believe that it is continuously looking for ways to improve its CO2 performance through improvements to processes, products and investment, particularly in research and development. The UK steel industry wants to be part of the solution to climate change, but it needs the Government to understand that it must compete on a level playing field around the world to do so. Otherwise, we will face a situation where companies could make long-term investment decisions based on the Government’s policies and take their investment plans abroad. As an MP with a steel interest, I certainly do not want that to happen, so let us make our steel industry part of the solution to climate change. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

11.12 am

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Mark Prisk): Thank you very much, Mr Amess, for calling me to speak. It is good to see you in the Chair.

I want to begin by congratulating the hon. Gentleman—sorry, the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden). There is obviously a little too much gin in the water in Westminster Hall. I congratulate the hon. Lady not only on securing the debate but on her incisive comments about the balance that we all have to strike between the environmental and business challenges. I will respond specifically to the points that she has made.

It is slightly unfortunate that today is the day of the Budget because, as right hon. and hon. Members will understand, that somewhat hampers my ability to be more specific about measures such as the carbon floor price. The Chancellor will be on his feet imminently and I am sure that he will set out some things in that regard in more detail. The hon. Lady not only has an interest in the steel industry in her own constituency but she is chair of the all-party group on the steel and metal related industry. That combination of interests was very evident in her speech and indeed in her responses to questions from Members, all of whom have a strong constituency interest in this important industry. The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) is absolutely right that this is a very important industry. It is dramatic, in the way that he rightly described, but it is

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also fundamentally important to many other industries, particularly in manufacturing. Later today, the Chancellor will set out our framework for growth for manufacturing, which I hope Members will welcome. That framework reflects some of the long-term issues that the steel industry and similar industries face.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I should point out that I am speaking today in my capacity as the MP for Ogmore and not in my capacity as a shadow Energy Minister.

I am not asking the Minister to reveal the details of what is in the Budget. However, he just used the word “framework”. That is quite interesting, because the Energy Intensive Users Group and others have been calling for us not to pin this down, right here, right now, in the Budget, but to allow scope for further discussion. Is that what the Minister meant when he used the term “framework”?

Mr Prisk: Yes. The manufacturing framework covers issues that are broader than the issue that we are discussing in this debate. It is about all the issues of capital investment, skills and so on. However, the hon. Gentleman is quite right. What we have tried to do with the growth reviews for manufacturing as a whole—I am just going slightly beyond the purview of this debate, Mr Amess, but not too far—is to ensure that we have listened carefully to manufacturers about all the different aspects of manufacturing, so that we understand how the proposal will work. The hon. Gentleman is quite right that the framework needs to be one in which the Government are a partner with industry, so that it is not simply something that we have decided is the right thing without listening to others. That will be reflected particularly in our response to energy-intensive users.

Ian Swales: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Prisk: I will do so briefly, but there are some detailed responses to be made to the points raised in the debate.

Ian Swales: I will be very quick. Is the Minister aware that this very week we have had the first full meeting of the new all-party group on energy-intensive industries? I am the vice-chair of that group and I have never been to an all-party group with a higher attendance. Every single industry that has been mentioned in this debate was represented at senior level, which illustrates the level of concern about the issue. It also supports what the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) was saying, that we need time to engage with the Government to ensure that they truly understand these issues.

Mr Prisk: I welcome that. It is very important that we have a good and thorough debate, and that Members across the House can participate in it. That is very welcome news.

The industry is crucial. We have talked about it in principle, but when one looks at the facts, last year, some 9.7 million tonnes of crude steel were produced in the UK and the industry employs 25,000 people directly. Encouragingly—and this goes back to the point that the right hon. Member for Rotherham made—about half of the UK steel industry’s output is now exported

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and we are now a net exporter. That is not necessarily something that one reads in the newspapers, but it is a success story, and in that context I commend both the previous Administration and the industry itself. That is quite something.

In Wales—this is particularly relevant to the hon. Member for Newport East—I believe that about 7,000 people are employed in the steel industry, with 4,000 employed at Port Talbot and 1,000 at the Llanwern rolling mills, so that is an important part of the sector. What is encouraging is that despite the fact that in 2008, the industry saw demand for its products drop by 50%, which would be devastating for any industry, it has been able, through good management of production, good co-operation and a flexible and committed work force, to ensure that there were not any major long-term job losses in those plants, which have been able to come back into production. Of course, there were some job losses, but in any industry if demand and production drop by half, that is potentially a killer. Thankfully, that did not happen.

I turn to the specific issue of the carbon floor price, before addressing the energy-intensive industries strategy and thus responding to the question about what my Department is doing to mitigate the impact. We have just consulted on the issue across Government, although the consultation was of course led by the Department for Energy and Climate Change. To respond to a question from the hon. Member for Newport East, we consciously made a specific point of talking to the key industries involved, including the Engineering Employers Federation, which she mentioned, so that we have a careful understanding of the practicalities of the measure for all energy users and for particular industries.

Mr MacShane: I will be brief. I regard the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as an ally in this process while, as we know, the real enemy is across the road in the Treasury. Then there is DECC, with its open-toed sandals, greenery and all that nonsense.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) told me on the Floor of the House before Christmas that he would accept an invitation to meet a delegation, but nothing happened. I then asked him about it face to face in the Lobby, and he said, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, Denis, we’ll try and sort this out”, but nothing happened. Does the Minister accept that there has not been enough consultation, especially with hon. Members, the workers and trade union employees? As this process unfolds—I think that we will be discussing this for some time; it will not be fixed for ever, either today or tomorrow—will he agree to receive a bit more input from right hon. and hon. Members, the trade unions and the work force?

Mr Prisk: My hon. Friend the Energy Minister is a very busy man, and I suspect that it will be through no fault of his own if he has not yet been able to fulfil that obligation. However, the door is not closed in this area. There is work to be done. My view, and I am sure that it is the view of my hon. Friend, too, is that we would always encourage involvement in this process. If there is an opportunity to do that at the right moment, yes, we will do so.

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Let me come back to where we are on the carbon price floor, then look at the strategy as a whole and at how we mitigate some of the impacts. The aim is to encourage investment in low-carbon electricity generation, by giving greater support, yes, and also by providing certainty on the price of carbon in the power sector. Getting that right is important for the whole of manufacturing but, as Members have rightly pointed out, we must strike a balance between the environmental gain and improvements in energy efficiency, which could help all manufacturing, and doing so in a way that does not pinch key energy-intensive sectors unreasonably. Members will understand that as the price is going to be set in the Budget later today, and as I would like to continue to be a Minister of State for a little while yet, it would be unwise to pre-empt what the Chancellor will say, in what I know will be an excellent Budget.

Let me turn to the question that the hon. Member for Newport East rightly asked about what my Department is doing in conjunction with others to consider how to mitigate the impact. We are working with the Department of Energy and Climate Change on a comprehensive strategy on energy-intensive industries, including steel. The strategy is deliberately intended to look at energy costs, and to assess the incremental changes that industries have made—I will come on to some that have very successfully been achieved in Wales—and possibly the longer-term transformational changes that might help the industry to deal with the bigger, long-term issues.

Huw Irranca-Davies: The Minister has said that a line in the Budget will set the carbon floor price, but before he moves away from the issue I would like to ask him whether he is alive to the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) about the complexity of different measures. The carbon floor price sits alongside the ongoing electricity market review and other measures that are already in place. Is the hon. Gentleman, as a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, focused on streamlining, and on removing complexity to achieve the overall outcome? Is he having those discussions with his colleagues in the Department of Energy and Climate Change to see what is the simplest, most direct and most effective way of achieving the decarbonisation objectives, and boosting renewables and potentially the nuclear industry—despite what is going on in that field at the moment—while at the same time stripping out layers of complexity and bureaucracy?

Mr Prisk: Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman is right. There are two challenges for the Government in this context: dealing with the low-carbon energy issue and ensuring that the lights do not go off in a few years’ time. Those two challenges do not necessarily run in the same direction, and if there is any conflict or tension we need to ensure that we get the balance right. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, as a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, I want to ensure that we do not lose our competitive edge. The export roles that the right hon. Member for Rotherham referred to are very important. We must ensure that we remain competitive and continue to be a net exporter, and I would like to encourage that.

Let me come back to the strategy and explain to Members what is in it, how it works, and how we are involving the industry. The strategy is designed to deal with a number of key objectives. First, it will assess the

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potential for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, not just in steel but across the industries, and look at the interplay between the sectors. There are a number of subsectors, and if we are not careful we will lose the capability of the larger sector because we have not taken care of the smaller ones. That is sensitive issue of which we are very much aware, and there is a thorough technological review of the sectors and their processes, because that, I suspect, will be where the transformational change can best be achieved in the longer term. There have nevertheless been some very good short-term changes, which I will mention in a moment.

Secondly, what we are trying to do with the strategy is build on existing research and both public and industry initiatives, to look at how reducing emissions can be progressed further. In many ways, it is about extolling and developing best practice. Thirdly, the review looks at a whole range of ways of decarbonising energy-intensive sectors. We are examining improvements to existing processes, as well as looking at substitutes and alternatives. That is partly to do with materials, as well as with processes. Fourthly, the strategy is embedded in a collaborative process with industry, the regulators and the various experts engaged in the field, such as institutions dealing with materials, and we seek to provide evidence to make the case for the EU to move towards a 30% EU emissions reduction target, to which we committed ourselves in the coalition agreement. That is an important shift, and it comes back to competitiveness.

Lastly, we are looking to introduce, promptly but not unduly hastily, a range of policy options on which we can work with the industry so that it can make the transition, while—from my point of view—always looking at competitiveness. That is a difficult balancing act, and I suspect that we will not achieve it perfectly because of the inherent tensions and the nature of the industry, and of the steel sector in particular. We are looking at the sector leaders and the supply chain, and at engaging with them through the strategy, to ensure that it can work. Although there are natural anxieties there is some really good practice, and I want to highlight a couple of examples that I suspect the hon. Members for Newport East and for Ogmore will know, given that they are Welsh Members.

Last spring, Tata Steel in Europe completed a £60 million investment to recycle process gases from the Port Talbot melt shop. The new facility reduces Port Talbot’s carbon dioxide emissions by 240,000 tonnes a year, its particulate emissions by 40 tonnes a year and, most interestingly, cuts its energy requirement from the grid by half. As the right hon. Member for Rotherham rightly says, this is a genuinely energy-intensive industry. It is also an industry in which we need to be able to control the energy in key bursts, and therefore the ability to reduce the energy requirement from the grid by half is tremendously encouraging.

A further £185 million investment at Port Talbot was announced last August, and the project, which is due to finish in July, will involve the rebuilding of blast furnace No. 4 and will increase liquid steel capacity at the plant

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by 400,000 tonnes, while improving environmental performance and safety. If production can be increased and performance improved, let us see how we can roll that out and work with the rest of the industry on that best practice.

Tom Blenkinsop: I think that that is a good argument, but if the Minister or the Government are going to propose new taxation on carbon, one option might be to recycle some of those funds into industrial programmes that would help the steel industry across the board and across the nation to do similar projects.

Mr Prisk: We are always mindful of the need to consider whether we can help the industry, particularly where there are up-front capital projects that need to be bridged, and I am always in discussions with the sector. I cannot make open tax promises at this stage as that is not my job; it is the job of the Chancellor, and rightly so. I am nevertheless always happy to talk to the industry on that basis.

The strategy, together with the carbon price floor and the fact that the strategy is founded on a consultative approach, means that we can, I think, work with the industry. As the right hon. Member for Rotherham rightly says, the Treasury, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills all need to be involved, and that is the approach that we seek to take. If we had only a single Department approaching the issue from one perspective, we would be in danger of not looking at it in the round.

Jessica Morden: As part of that, has the Minister done a full impact assessment of the effect of carbon floor pricing on intensive energy users? If not, will he make a commitment to doing so?

Mr Prisk: The lead on this is not my Department; the proposal comes from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which has been looking specifically at the impact of the price across sectors. I deal with deregulation, and impact assessment has many other, often challenging, implications. We have been looking at how it impacts on the sector, what it means and, most of all, what the practical outcomes are that the industry can use to progress. That is the key point.

In conclusion, we believe that energy efficiency and business competitiveness go hand in hand. We are trying to ensure that the challenge for the environment does not become something that is done at the expense of the economy, and we are very sensitive to the fact that particular industries, whether it is steel or—as I saw for myself recently—brick making, understand the practicalities of changing processes, changing materials and the regulatory environment, and how the carbon price floor will work, so that we can help businesses move through this period and successfully decarbonise themselves and compete at the same time.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

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Pig Farming

[Hugh Bayley in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bayley. I am delighted to have secured this debate, as we have reached a critical juncture in the British pig industry. I am also particularly pleased to see the Minister in his place, as I know that he is a friend and ally of Britain’s pig farmers and has taken a lot of trouble to understand the problems faced by the industry.

We should not underestimate the size of the industry. The value of pork retail sales in the UK is about £8.7 billion, outpacing chicken, beef or lamb. This is an important industry, but I am sorry to say that it is in trouble. Just three weeks ago, pig farmers from our constituencies and across the country flocked to Westminster to draw the Government’s attention to the plight of their industry. Many MPs will have signed the 16-foot sausage in Whitehall and heard the rousing rendition of the industry anthem “Stand By Your Ham”, all in support of the cry, “Pigs are still worth it!”

I say “still worth it” because the Minister and other colleagues with long memories may recall attending the 2008 “Pigs are worth it” rally. Like this month’s rally, the 2008 gathering was a response to a sharp increase in feed costs that left the industry on the brink of collapse. After the 2008 rally, led by the much-missed standard-bearer of the “Pigs are worth it” campaign, Winnie the pig, the industry returned to profit in 2009. That breathing space allowed farmers to recoup some of their losses and take the opportunity to invest in improvements to production and infrastructure.

Despite fluctuations in profit margins, the outlook remained positive, at least for a few months, until last August, when the industry was driven into crisis once more. The fleeting period of profitability was not long or profitable enough for pig farmers to recoup the severe losses that they sustained in 2007-08.

Mr Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I congratulate him on securing the debate. Does he agree that one problem has been our loose labelling law? Many consumers wanting to support the British pig farmer by buying British pork have not always known when they were doing so, because it is possible to package pork reared overseas as British if it is merely processed here.

Mr Bacon: My right hon. Friend is correct. He might have seen my Food Labelling Regulations (Amendment) Bill, which is scheduled for Second Reading on 1 April. Should the Government wish to take this opportunity to announce that they will give it Government time, I would be only too pleased to hand it over to officials to be steered through the House. Yesterday, I was encouraged by a phone call from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs asking to see a copy. It is important to say that there has been some improvement in labelling in the pork sector, but I still believe and have always maintained that the only viable long-term answer is a mandatory regime. We already have mandatory regimes for many other foodstuffs; we should have one for pork and pork products as well.

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The inexorable slide into loss-making as rising feed prices have affected the industry has begun to cripple pig farmers in this country once again. The price that pig farmers pay for feed has more than doubled since 2010. Feed costs are rising faster than during the crisis of 2008, and I am afraid that the omens for the future are not good. BPEX—the British Pig Executive, which is the industry body—estimates that feed, which is generally made up of a combination of wheat, barley and soya, remains the single largest cost for British pig producers and accounts for 77% of pig farmers’ costs, up from 60% in 2009. BPEX expects food costs to remain historically high this year, and possibly beyond.

That gloomy forecast is being borne out by recent movements on the international cereals market. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations expects a tightening of the global cereal supply this year, driven by growing demand after the slump in world cereal production in 2010. According to the FAO, export prices of major grains have risen at least 70% since February last year, and global cereal stocks are expected to fall sharply due to a decline in supplies of wheat and coarse grains. Market uncertainty after the Japanese earthquake caused prices to fall from £214 a tonne in February to £170 a tonne last week, but as of last Friday, wheat prices had climbed back to £195 a tonne. As one might imagine, recent increases in the price of pig feed have had a severe impact on the cost of pig production, which has risen to £1.64 a kilogram.

However, although production costs continue to rise, the dead-weight average pig price—the price farmers receive for the pigs they produce—has fallen during the same period. In February, the DAPP stood at £1.35 a kilogram, 29p short of covering pig farmers’ costs and 12p a kilogram below the July 2010 price of £1.47 a kilogram.

Britain’s pig farmers started 2010 in a state of cautious optimism, their hope to rebuild based on the reasonably steady costs that they faced and their improved returns in 2009, but by September 2010 the industry had returned to making a loss, and by January 2011 the cost of production had risen by one third compared with 2007. According to BPEX, a farmer sending 200 pigs to slaughter in January this year stood to lose £4,500 in a single week. The pig industry is facing overall losses of £4 million a week, and farmers are estimated to be losing more than £21 on every pig produced.

Although the rising price of feed is undoubtedly a major factor in the pain being suffered by British pig farmers, it is far from being the only factor. The pressure on Britain’s pig industry caused by rising feed prices is being amplified by what can only be described as the decoupling of the supply chain. For a supply chain to work properly, manufacturers, processors and retailers must work collaboratively to bring down its costs effectively and sustainably. However, it is clear that the pressure of high feed costs is not being shared across the pigmeat supply chain. If anything, the reverse is the case. Feed manufacturers have passed on the rise in the cost of cereals to their customers—that is, pig farmers—but the costs of rising prices have stopped with farmers and are not being passed up the supply chain to producers and retailers.

The disconnect in the pigmeat supply chain can best be illustrated by the relative performance of its constituent parts in the 12 weeks up to the end of January 2011. In

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that period, British pig farmers suffered losses estimated at £35 million, which equates roughly to £416,000 every calendar day. However, over the same 12-week period, the processing sector made an estimated profit of £100 million, or just over £1 million a day. Retailers, including Britain’s supermarkets, which set much store by their support for British farmers, enjoyed combined profits of £192 million from pork and pork product sales, equivalent to daily profits of £2.3 million.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): On the point about retailers, particularly supermarkets, the hon. Gentleman well knows that we hope the Government will shortly introduce the proposed supermarket adjudicator Bill. Although that cannot and should not be a price-sensitive or price-setting mechanism, it will address the issue of fair dealing. Does he agree that the sooner we pass such a Bill, the sooner we can help not just pig farmers, but many other farmers and suppliers to supermarkets?

Mr Bacon: I agree. We all use supermarkets because in many ways they are efficient, but we love to hate them because they are very powerful. We are not discussing perfect competition. People sometimes speak of supermarkets as though they were speaking of the market for foreign exchange, but this is an oligopolistic arrangement. Supermarkets have large amounts of power that they do not always use in the right way, and sometimes they misuse that power. I welcome the Government’s proposals for an adjudicator.

Mr Keith Simpson (Broadland) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour on introducing the debate. If he will pardon the pun, this is like “Groundhog Day” for other hon. Members and for me, as we have been debating the pig industry for at least 10 years. Although I do not want to turn supermarkets into devils, it seems to me that they stand condemned in two ways. The first relates to driving down costs and forcing down farmers’ profits, and the second is the labelling itself. They are better now than they ever have been, but all too often, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) pointed out, they put the Union flag on something and it is only when one reads the small print that one realises that it is imported bacon or ham.

Mr Bacon: My hon. Friend is right. There have been some egregious examples involving some of the best known and highly admired supermarkets. Marks & Spencer, for example, was guilty of such practices, but I think that there are fewer of them now. The use of Union, English and Scottish—I was in Scotland for Christmas—flags in supermarket aisles is better and more appropriate, but we are not there yet and he is right that there is still work to do. Some supermarkets are leading the way on doing what I think would be the right thing, both for themselves in the long term and for the industry. I shall mention Morrisons in particular in a moment.

There is no doubt that supermarkets in general seem to be using their part of the supply chain to insulate themselves against the increasing costs of the production of pork and other pigmeat product, such as bacon, ham and sausages.

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Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con): Is it not a shame that we import 50% of all pig products? Given that the Chancellor has just given a Budget for growth, would it not be a good idea to try to become a net exporter of pork products, particularly from Norfolk, which is where my constituency, as well as that of my hon. Friend, lies? There does not seem to be a level playing field on welfare internationally to enable us to increase our exports and decrease our imports.

Mr Bacon: My hon. Friend is absolutely right—there is not a level playing field. BPEX has done a lot of work on the issue and estimates that 70% of the pork imported to this country is produced under animal welfare standards that would be illegal here. In other words, 30% of what comes in meets our standards, and 70% does not.

Price promotions in supermarkets are a particular problem. Tesco ran a price promotion in January in what are called the gondola ends—the ends of the aisles—and it was very successful because of its high visibility. Such promotions can increase sales by up to 200%. If a supermarket has an uplift of 200%, not only will it want to keep the promotion going for longer, but it will need more product. I fear that, at such times, even if supermarkets such as Tesco are adhering, or say that they are adhering, to the standards for their imports, suppliers will be under pressure and will get the product from wherever they can, and the standards will not always be adhered to.

People may be familiar with the concept of stalls and tethers, which are banned in this country. Tesco wrote to me this morning pointing out that they will be banned in the European Union, but they will not—an allowance will still be made for the use of stalls and tethers, although the period will be restricted. Even so, that will not be introduced until 2013, which means that if one visits a British farm and sees a stall and tether, one will know that it is illegal, whereas if one visits a farm in other parts of the EU, one will still be able to see stalls and tethers and will then have to audit whether they are used for more than four weeks. I really do not know how that can be successfully audited. There are still big issues to resolve.

I have no doubt that the behaviour of some supermarkets has helped to suck in imports, which has had the effect of keeping the lion’s share of the profits at the customer-facing end of the supply chain, and of ramming the rising production costs on to pig farmers.

Andrew George: It would be interesting to know whether the promotional campaign to which my hon. Friend referred was effectively being funded by the suppliers themselves. I am afraid that, too often, the so-called promotional campaigns of two for the price of one are largely or mostly funded by the suppliers, not the retailers.

Mr Bacon: Of course, that is a common problem with very powerful retailers. We have seen it in the book trade—many book publishers have been driven under by that sort of practice by some book chains. We know that big factors in the marketplace mean that it is constantly dynamic—no static position, even if it holds for a while, will hold for ever—but that is another thing that the adjudicator needs to look at, because it is an exercise of market power that distorts in a way that could sometimes be thought of as anti-competitive.

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Retailers have the power, if they choose to use it, to make a difference by using their stocking, labelling and pricing policies to promote the prominence of British produce and to ensure a fair return for British farmers, including British pig farmers. I pay particular tribute to Morrisons, which is the only one of the big four supermarkets to source 100% of its fresh pork from Britain. Morrisons has also committed to using British-only meat in its own-label sausages, and earlier this month the company’s chairman, Sir Ian Gibson—I am led to believe that he is no relation of the former Member for Norwich North—wrote to me about Morrisons’ backing for British farmers. He said:

“We recognise the pressure pig producers are under and will continue to be strong supporters of the sector. We are the only major supermarket to have such close control over the provenance of its meat, buying pigs directly from Britain’s farmers and processing the pork ourselves”.

He continued:

“This results in exceptional quality, freshness and value. It also enables us to offer industry-leading support to British farming. Our commitment to source 100% British fresh pork is unique among the major supermarkets and in 2011 we expect to reach the milestone of purchasing a million pigs a year from British farmers”.

That is extremely good news. Sir Ian added:

“This policy is popular with customers who we know show a preference for British produce if the price is right. Our combination of British provenance and quality at an affordable price sees us overtrade on pork—that is to say, our share of the pork market exceeds our overall market share”.

I think there is a lesson there for other supermarkets. Sir Ian continued by saying that not only are Morrisons

“major customers of British farming but we consistently pay over the market price for our pigs and we always have done. This was reflected in the results of an independent satisfaction survey of our pork farmers last year, with over 70% responding that they were happy at the price paid by Morrison”.

I salute Morrisons for backing British farmers so wholeheartedly and I wish them every success in their million pig milestone.

It would be remiss to not also mention supermarkets such as Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Lidl and the Co-op, which now all source 100% of the fresh pork that they stock from British pig farmers. All of that pork displays the red tractor mark, which is an independent logo that guarantees that the food it adorns was sourced from farms and food companies that meet Britain’s high standards of food safety and hygiene, animal welfare and environmental protection.

Such support, however, is not constant throughout the retail industry. On the day before the “Pigs are still worth it!” rally, Mr Andrew Opie, food director at the British Retail Consortium, commented in a press statement entitled “Pig farmers do have retailers’ support”:

“Retailers know some consumers prefer to buy British. They’re already doing what they need to to look after their supply chain and secure a sustainable UK pig industry”.

I am afraid that that will raise a hollow laugh from many pig farmers. Mr Opie goes on:

“Supermarkets do not generally pay farmers directly for their pork.”

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Well, that will be news to Sir Ian Gibson, because that is exactly what Morrisons does. Mr Opie concludes by asserting that supermarkets have no direct relationship with farmers. Unsurprisingly, the BPEX chairman, Stewart Houston, described those comments as “complete rubbish”, before adding that supermarkets

“dictate prices to processors who pass those prices directly to producers. It is a very short supply chain and they have nowhere to hide. How much money there is in the supply chain is determined by the price supermarkets pay. It is as simple as that.”

Mr Keith Simpson: Am I right in thinking that supermarkets or their agents frequently inspect farms for hygiene, health and animal welfare?

Mr Bacon: They certainly do. They inspect or employ auditors independently to inspect British farms and say—Tesco has been saying this in correspondence with me over the past few days—that they do the same in relation to their foreign supply chain. I fear, however, that, when they have promotions at the discounted end of the market, that audit trail may run out and the provenance will not always be as clear as it should be.

Hon. Members may be disturbed to hear that there is evidence to suggest that British pork products are quietly being withdrawn from the shelves of our largest supermarkets and displaced by imports. Data from Kantar Worldpanel show that, over the past three years, the volume of pork on sale in British supermarkets that does not clearly identify a specific country of origin has increased, with a spike in sales of non-British pork having been recorded recently, in the past few months of this year and late last year.

Families in my constituency and across Britain who make their living from farming pigs may find their weekly shop at the local supermarket increasingly dispiriting. In-store observation by BPEX suggests that an overall increase in pork sales is being driven by promotional sales of imported pork that does not carry a quality mark. Imported pork has replaced British pork carrying either the quality standard or the red tractor. Where major supermarkets have run promotions on pig products that are multi-buy packs or are heavily discounted on price, it is mostly imported pork. According to BPEX, just one in five pork loins promoted by Sainsbury’s two weeks ago was British, Asda’s three for £10 promotion only included imported pork, and anecdotal evidence from BPEX members suggests that Tesco’s recent in-store promotion on the so-called gondola end—end of aisle—of three pork products for £10 also featured only Danish or Dutch meat.

That is borne out by Pork Watch, the bi-monthly survey of supermarkets conducted by representatives of the National Pig Association and by Ladies in Pigs. The most recent survey found that the overall number of pork facings—the shelf space allocated to a product line—has fallen from 80% in November last year to 77% in February, which is the lowest figure for the past 12 months. Facings of the red tractor or the quality standard mark for pork—both indicators that British welfare standards have been adhered to—have also fallen slightly from 75% to 73%, after making small gains last year. It is worth taking a particularly close look at Pork Watch’s findings on Tesco: it found that facings of “British” on Tesco pork had tumbled from 73% to 59% and red tractor facings had slumped from

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63% to 55%—a fall of 14 percentage points in the British category, which is the largest decline of facings of “British” on pork in any British supermarket. About half of the pork on Tesco’s shelves does not bear the red tractor, which makes it unlikely that imported pork meets the UK’s welfare standards in all cases, despite Tesco’s claim that its overseas suppliers’ standards “broadly equate” to red tractor standards.

Let us be in no doubt that the situation facing British pig farmers is extremely serious. Of course, neither retailers, individual farmers, their industry bodies nor Members of Parliament can do much to influence world commodity prices. Feed is expensive because cereals are expensive, and that looks unlikely to change in the near future.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): I hope that my hon. Friend can help me on one point. Presumably, the story he is telling ends with pig farmers leaving the industry. If that is the case, is the situation not serious for not just pig farmers, but for agriculture and indeed rural Britain as a whole? I suggest that problem goes much further than pig farming.

Mr Bacon: It does go much further than pig farming. People are beginning to exit the industry and many are worried about whether they can expect to still be in the industry by the end of this year. My point is that if we have a stronger pig farming and farming sector, that is good for Britain, for the rural economy and for the economy as a whole, and that that is good for the Tescos of this world and their like. If the supermarkets took a longer-term view, rather than just worrying about the next three months and the next quarterly results, it would be better for them in the end. It is not an accident that Morrisons’ fresh meat sales have increased by 12% since it announced its 100% British pork policy. I urge supermarkets that are not currently doing so to take a more pro-British stance. It is incumbent on institutions—and such companies are institutions—of the like, size and power of Tesco to do more than just think about one set of shareholders; they have to think about the entire community of stakeholders, of which they form such a powerful part.

Let me give an example. Tesco states on its website that it supports British farmers, and hon. Members will have probably seen the signs as they go into Tesco showing that it is the biggest customer of British agriculture. On its website, it identifies 27 farmers whom it supports: five produce apples and pears, five produce cheese, nine produce either beef or lamb or a combination of the two, one produces watercress, one produces rapeseed oil and one produces milk. There is not a single pig farmer among the 27.

Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): Will my hon. Friend explain why the economics mean that Morrisons can make a profit by sourcing 100% British pork when Tesco and the other superstores he has mentioned cannot? What is the economic reason he has divined for that?

Mr Bacon: My hon. Friend makes a very interesting point because one might think that if everybody could do it, they would. My point is they can do it and they should. The economic case is that when customers see

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that supermarkets, such as Morrisons, are backing British farmers and backing Britain, they are disproportionately likely to go and shop in those shops and buy those products. They want to see that the supermarket that they endorse by their shopping decisions—it is their spending the money in their pocket that means a supermarket is profitable—is also helping to back our community, back Britain and back British farmers. When people see that, they respond. That has an economic effect of its own, which is why Morrisons’ policy has proved to be so successful. Other supermarkets should follow suit.

The even broader point is that, even if the effects were cost-neutral in the long term—I do not believe for one moment that they are—the supermarkets should recognise that they are British supermarkets and they are succeeding only because we have allowed the planning permissions to go through, sometimes against people’s better judgment, and enabled them to have those locations. It is because we go into those supermarkets and spend our money that they are able to make such profits. I come back to the question: what kind of market are we talking about? We are not talking about the market for foreign exchange; we are talking about enormously powerful players, and with enormous power comes enormous responsibility. I am asking the supermarkets to exercise that responsibility in a more measured way in the interests of this country. I do not want to rant even more on that point, so I shall stop there.

It is certainly true that some British supermarkets can and do support British pig farmers, but only one of the big four sources 100% of its pork in Britain. That is not good enough. In addition, the biggest of the big four also seems to be slowly turning its back on British farmers, offering cheap imports in the misguided belief—promoted by the British Retail Consortium but disproved by Morrisons—that British shoppers do not care where the meat comes from as long as the price is right. Retailers will no doubt respond that they have to meet the variable demand of their customers and that in the current economic climate price has to be a factor. However, I question how much of the instability in the pigmeat supply chain is due to fluctuations in customer demand on price and how much is caused by the internal operations of the supply chain which, as I have set out, is entirely skewed in favour of retailers.

This is not simply a case of backing our heroic pig farmers against the evil supermarkets because, as we have heard, some of our supermarkets are trying to do the right thing. Of course it would be foolish to state that shoppers will buy British whatever the price, but we also know that it is possible to offer consumers British food at high standards of quality and animal welfare all at an affordable price. Morrisons have shown that that is possible and, if the producers can get a fair price for their pigs, we will have the best of all possible worlds.