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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 18 April 2012

[Dr William McCrea in the Chair]

Mental Health Care (Hampshire)

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

9.30 am

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Last November, I secured a short Adjournment debate entitled, “Woodhaven Hospital”, the subject matter of which ranged far more widely than the future of that state-of-the-art mental health unit, which was opened in New Forest East only eight years earlier. At issue was the vital question of how many acute beds should continue to be provided by the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which covers most of Hampshire.

The trust was proposing a 35% reduction in acute mental health beds for adults, from 165 to only 107, 10 of which would go from Antelope House, Southampton, 24 from the Meadows in Fareham and 24 from Windsor ward at Woodhaven in my constituency, with this last unit being reused as a low secure unit for much longer-term detained patients. No one disputes that some beds will always be needed for people in crisis, and everyone welcomes the use of new mental health therapies to reduce the number of admissions and enable people to go home earlier. The argument is purely about how many beds are required and whether the trust has shown adequate statistical rigour.

The trust’s consultation document seemed to be designed to persuade the public that bed numbers were much higher and length of stay much longer in Hampshire than the national average, when that was not the case. Two other matters also caused particular concern. First, about half the acute in-patients at any one time had been detained or sectioned under mental heath legislation, so most detained patients would still need beds in the future. It seemed obvious therefore that the proportion of beds allocated to such patients would rise from about half to some two thirds or even three quarters if there were a 35% reduction. Yet, when I said on the BBC’s “South Today” programme that people’s best chance for future admission would be to get themselves sectioned, the chief executive of the trust, Katrina Percy, sent a letter to Ministers, councillors and Hampshire MPs denouncing such comments as “unfounded” and “scaremongering” and with

“no place in the 21st century”.

The trust feared the broadcast because it also demonstrated my second contention, which is that people were being misled about the number of unused acute beds out of the 165. As was explained in the previous debate, at 4 pm every day a bed states report is issued, showing the total number of beds available in each acute adult mental health unit. The figures are broken down into four important categories: male beds, female beds, vacant beds and leave beds. Male and female beds are obviously not interchangeable, except in the minority of cases where the configuration of a ward allows a bed

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to be used for either gender. Leave beds are those whose patients are away for a few nights, and beds empty for longer periods are rightly regarded as vacant and genuinely empty. Despite what the trust says, one cannot rely on admitting the same number of new patients as there are leave beds because people come back after two or three nights to reclaim such beds.

The trust hates my use of these 4 pm daily snapshots of bed occupancy, yet what is its alternative? It issues simplistic graphs, which plot three elementary tracks. The top line shows the number of beds in the system; the middle one shows the number currently in commission in case some have had to be closed; and the bottom one, which fluctuates widely, shows the number of patients in beds on each day. The picture presented by the graphs seems reassuring, because there is always a visible gap between the number of patients in beds and the number of beds in commission, but they do not distinguish between the different categories of unfilled beds. The graphs assume that all the beds are interchangeable regardless of gender and that they are all available for admitting new patients, when many are leave beds, which are, by definition, never empty for long.

In last November’s debate, I pointed out that between 21 September and 6 October 2011 the combined total of vacant and leave beds had varied from just three to just 11 out of the 165 in the system and that over the three months from August to October, even if all the leave beds had been counted as fully available for new admissions, bed occupancy was still at almost 92%. One must have huge confidence in the ability of the trust’s proposed alternative—virtual wards at home for acutely ill people—to think that a 35% reduction in beds will be safe and sustainable. In the previous debate, I said that it was

“distinctly probable that the overview and scrutiny committee of Hampshire county council may decide to refer this matter to the Secretary of State.”—[Official Report, 10 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 552.]

That health overview and scrutiny committee—HOSC—can do that if it is sufficiently concerned about proposed changes in NHS arrangements.

I was a little perturbed to hear that HOSC’s relatively new chairman, Councillor Pat West, apparently said that I had my figures wrong. Before Christmas, I made contact with Mrs West, who took the trouble to meet me at the home of my caseworker, Councillor Diana Brooks, who is the health portfolio holder on the district council in the New Forest. The HOSC chairman went though some of my data, and forcefully explained her poor opinion of the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust and one of its most senior administrators. She even hinted that there was a question mark over the suitability of the trust to continue with its contracts and said that the future of the acute mental health beds was just part of a bigger picture. She also added that the HOSC had considered referral to the Secretary of State but felt that that was premature at present and that matters would be considered further at the next HOSC meeting on 24 January. Encouraged, I put the date in my diary.

Meanwhile, the trust’s chief executive, Katrina Percy, had responded to my November debate, and that led me to prepare a full analysis of the deficiencies so far discovered in the trust’s information. My memorandum, entitled “Unreliable Statistics”, was sent to my right

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hon. Friend the Minister, Miss Percy and the HOSC chairman on 11 January. My covering letter to Pat West stated:

“I hope the HOSC will consider the contents presently”.

With the HOSC meeting drawing near, I asked my parliamentary assistant, Colin Smith, to ring Councillor West to ask about my addressing her committee, perhaps with a delegation. She was adamant that there was no need for me to go to the 24 January meeting. She said that it would be “counter-productive” and that she would much rather keep me “in reserve” for later. Having no reason to doubt the advice, I followed it. My feelings can be imagined, therefore, when the day after the meeting I discovered that the HOSC had fully endorsed the bed closure plan and would not be considering it again until July, by which time all 58 beds would have closed.

I immediately telephoned the leader of Hampshire county council and expressed my incredulity that an elected councillor from my own party could have misled me so blatantly. Subsequently, the HOSC chairman spoke further with my office. She still insisted that my attendance would have been counter-productive. I am at a loss to know how the meeting could have been more counter-productive. Could her committee have voted to close all 58 beds twice over?

Suspecting that my paper on bed statistics had been suppressed rather than circulated, I sent it directly to all HOSC members and set out the circumstances in which their chairman had dissuaded me from attending. In case anyone thinks that I am relying on parliamentary privilege, this is what I wrote without it:

“She gave no inkling that there was the slightest chance of a decision to close the beds being taken at that meeting. I was, therefore, amazed and dismayed to learn (from a local press report) that that is precisely what happened. I feel totally misled and let down on behalf of some of my most vulnerable constituents... In almost 15 years as a Hampshire MP, I have never received treatment like this from an elected colleague in my own party, and I am deeply shocked by it.”

When the row broke in the local press, Councillor West refused to comment to the Southern Daily Echo, saying that she

“did not want to get into a slanging match with the MP in the media”.

However, on 3 February, she replied to my original letter of 11 January covering my memo to the HOSC and to my later letter to committee members:

“I am sorry that you could not attend the 24 January meeting”,

she wrote, without a trace of irony, adding that the agenda and papers for the meeting had been on the council’s website and would have shown me that the HOSC

“would be considering recommendations which related to the closure of beds”.

Apparently, I had only myself to blame for not distrusting her enough to ferret around on websites to check that I was not being misled.

The minutes of the meeting and the resulting press coverage revealed that two factors had featured prominently in the HOSC deliberations. The first was a statement by the trust’s clinical director, Dr Lesley Stevens:

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“With regard to the data on bed demand, it was highlighted that between 20 and 30 beds had been vacant consistently over the past three months, and that this trend coincided with the introduction of new community services.”

That is precisely the sort of claim that I had intended to challenge.

On the very day of that meeting on 24 January, the trust’s own figures showed clearly that there were no vacant male or female beds, no leave male beds and just six leave female beds in the entire system, giving a grand total of six unoccupied beds. In November and December 2011, there had certainly been an unusual rise in the number of empty beds, in stark contrast to the previous month, October, when on 17 days the total number of male and female vacant and leave beds had been in the single figures, not 20 to 30.

Indeed, on 10 October, there had been no vacant male beds, no vacant female beds and just one male and one female leave bed in the entire directorate. Still, if overall totals of empty beds in January had continued at November and December’s high levels, I would have ended my campaign to prevent the closures. However, that did not happen. For example, on at least 14 days in January, there were no vacant male beds, and on at least 10 days, there were no vacant and no leave male beds, so no beds for men at all.

Later, I wrote to the local press about Dr Stevens’s claim to the HOSC that there had been 20 to 30 vacant beds consistently in the past three months. I pointed out in my letter that actually only a handful of beds had been empty when she claimed consistent totals of 20 to 30 unoccupied, and I noted:

“It is true that during November and possibly December”—

I did not have the full figures for December at that time—

“there was a sudden surge in available beds totals. Yet my continuing investigations have shown this to have slipped back since Christmas—and this would have been known to the trust’s representatives when they made their presentation to HOSC.”

Although my letter was published in at least three local papers, including the Southern Daily Echo, in which Dr Stevens had aired her views, as far as I can tell, she did not respond in any of them.

To deal with any suggestion that the trust’s new programme of intensive day therapies had been responsible for the temporary glut of beds in November and December, I asked senior trust members at a routine meeting on 3 February whether the new therapies and arrangements begun in 2011 were still in place. Dr Shanaya Rathod from the trust confirmed that they were. Therefore, the rapid decline in empty bed totals in January cannot be explained away by suggesting that the trust had stopped doing whatever it claimed was responsible for the temporary surge in beds during the last two months of 2011.

The second major factor that influenced the HOSC on 24 January was also set out in the minutes of the meeting:

“It was reported that the Centre for Mental Health had independently reviewed the evidence for the changes the trust was proposing and concluded they were necessary to meet the challenges the trust faced. The trust offered to provide the full report to HOSC members when available.”

On 27 January, I met the trust’s chief executive, Katrina Percy, and was given that document. In fact, it consisted of two separate reports. The first, from the Centre for Mental Health, supported what are termed

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recovery-oriented services, which the Government are rightly keen on, but did not analyse bed numbers. The second report was by Steve Appleton of Contact Consulting. Less than one page of his report dealt with Southern Health acute bed data, but every reference was footnoted to a single source, which was not attached—a third report called “Inpatient Capacity” drawn up by a third organisation, Consilium Strategy Consulting.

I recall the important debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) on 19 December last year. With my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler), local consultants and the press, he had been battling similar techniques designed to justify closing acute beds at the Margaret Stanhope Centre in his constituency. Those techniques had also relied on an appeal to external authority and an “independent” report by Staffordshire university, which turned out to have been produced by someone on the payroll of the local trust.

Wondering whether something similar had happened in Hampshire, I contacted the Centre for Mental Health, formerly the Sainsbury Centre, which I knew enjoyed a deservedly high reputation. Its chief executive, Professor Sean Duggan, met me on 23 February, and later confirmed in a letter:

“The scope of the centre’s work did not include an examination of the number, type or location of beds that would be needed now or in future. A separate analysis, by Contact Consulting, looked at bed numbers...[The] Centre for Mental Health is an independent charity and as such we would not seek to endorse or condemn specific local decisions about reconfiguring inpatient mental health services.”

Yet, as we have already seen, the second report by Contact Consulting depended on a third report by Consilium Strategy Consulting that had not been made available.

I wrote to Katrina Percy on 28 February, pointing out that

“the so-called independent report that you handed me involved no examination primary source data whatsoever, but simply relied upon a third document—a report by Consilium—which it described as having been produced when the Trust ‘conducted its own benchmarking process’.”

I asked for a copy of the Consilium report; for a statement of the status of Consilium, in particular of how independent it is, if it all, from the trust; and for its contact details. Miss Percy replied on 9 March:

“I would just clarify that the content and status of the Consilium report, as mentioned in your letter to me, is commercially sensitive and is therefore not available to share publicly. However, should it be required, I would be pleased to provide you with the contact details of the consultant involved so that you may contact them directly.”

Despite two phone calls from my office to hers, and a further letter from me, the trust’s chief executive has yet to supply even the contact details of the Consilium consultant.

Although reluctant to reveal data that ought to be available, Southern Health resents criticism of its slippery methods. Yet how else can one describe the activities of an organisation that seeks to discredit, as it does, a public petition with more than 1,000 signatures against the closure of Woodhaven’s 24 acute beds by claiming that

“a number of people contacted the Trust and told us variously that they either did not know anything about the petition, could not recall signing the petition, suggested a friend or neighbour

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may have signed it on their behalf without their knowledge or consent… I am sure you would also acknowledge that the petition only has limited value in terms of a valid indicator of people’s views”?

If the trust had pointed out that I have some 70,000 adult constituents and that a petition, quickly compiled, represented only a fraction of them, that would have been fair enough. Sadly, it preferred to use a few anomalies to discount the views of 1,000 people and to cast doubt on the integrity of the petition’s organisers.

On Monday 5 March, the trust’s clinical director Lesley Stevens was interviewed for “South Today”, whose chief reporter—in fact, political editor—Peter Henley, challenged her claims about empty beds, given the figures in January’s bed status report. She insisted that there was no shortage of acute beds, yet the very next day the trust sent an e-mail to its consultants, stating:

“There are currently no unassigned acute beds in the Directorate. Can CRHT”—

the crisis resolution and home treatment teams—

“and the acute wards ensure that all clients are reviewed for leave or early discharge as a matter of urgency, please?”

I was also interviewed for the “South Today” report, which was broadcast on 13 March and said that that e-mail had given the game away completely. In-patients were already being reviewed for early discharge at a time when only 18 of the 58 beds scheduled for closure had actually gone. I said then, and I repeat now, that the trust’s policy of closing so many beds on the basis of bogus claims about surplus beds is inhumane.

As a result of the row over the January HOSC meeting, I was invited to take a deputation to the next one on 27 March. Although it was late in the day, a chance had been created to persuade the committee to at least pause the closure programme once the 34 beds at Antelope house and the Meadows had gone. We could then see whether the trust could cope with so many losses before starting to close the 24 Woodhaven beds as well. That had consistently been urged by Councillor Keith Mans, a governor of the trust and a former Member who was once a Parliamentary Private Secretary to a Secretary of State for Health. We believe that closures on this scale must be trialled properly and in stages before full implementation.

At the March meeting, I distributed tables showing how wrong it had been to claim that 20 to 30 beds were still empty when the January vote was held. I was given 10 minutes to state my case, which was a relief, because right up to the start of the meeting the chairman, Councillor Pat West, had told me that three out of the five of us would have to share 10 minutes between us. Mary Bryant, who was one of my deputations, spoke movingly of the burden on carers that the loss of the beds would impose; Councillor Sally Arnold gave the results of a survey of parish councils that had not been properly consulted; and Mrs Jane Barnicoat-Chongwe, a nurse practitioner on the acute ward at Woodhaven who had contacted me, expressed professional concern about the trust’s proposals. I put on the record now that at no time has she given me any data whatsoever or any documents from the trust.

Our fifth spokesman was Andrew Evans, a service user who for decades has relied on periodic admission to acute units. With extraordinary eloquence, Andrew explained not only the pressure on his parents, who are

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his carers, if he stays at home when in an acute crisis phase, but how the loss of the en-suite facilities at Woodhaven—remember that the unit is only eight years old—which are not available in some of the other units, will have a traumatic effect on in-patients’ dignity in future. The HOSC and the audience broke into spontaneous applause at the end of his presentation.

Thereafter, none of us could contribute further to the discussion, and I watched in frustration as Dr Stevens blandly maintained that the bed closures at Antelope house and the Meadows, which, of course, had only started after 24 January, had absorbed the 20 to 30 beds, which, in the face of all the evidence, she still claimed to have been empty up to that January meeting. She then mistook the e-mail of 6 March—which said that the system was full and that early discharges were needed, and which had been shown on the “South Today” programme—for another one, sent three days later. She explained how such communications were so normal and so routine that she would be concerned if she were not receiving them. I have since checked with sources at the trust, who have told me that no such e-mails had been sent for months before 6 March.

When questioned by HOSC member Councillor John Wall about the lumping together of male and female empty beds as if more than a fraction of them were interchangeable, Dr Stevens told the committee that a female could be allocated an empty male bed, for example, as long as “one-to-one observation” by a member of staff was maintained. So much for our long years of campaigning to eliminate mixed-sex wards in NHS hospitals.

Once the trust had finished its long presentation, the chairman put a motion to the vote that reflected the case made by Keith Mans and others, including me, that there should be a pause before the closure of the Woodhaven beds began, while an independent panel would seek to resolve the disputed figures about bed occupancy. To our delight, it was carried nem. con., at which point Dr Stevens interrupted the proceedings, which was out of order, because the trust’s presentation had ended. If there were any delays, she exclaimed, the Woodhaven staff would be so unsettled that many would leave, the unit would close and it would not reopen at all—even in its new role, I presume she meant. To my utter astonishment, the first vote was then ignored, as though it had never happened, and replaced by a much weaker proposal that a small panel of committee members and key stakeholders would examine the issues urgently and seek to resolve them without any delay to the closure of Woodhaven’s beds.

Given that the only reason any of this was happening was because of the data I had unearthed and my exclusion in January—remember that originally the matter was not supposed to have been considered again by the HOSC until July—hon. Members might think that I should be a part of the process if it is meant to be more than a charade. Not a bit of it. This little panel will go on its merry way looking at points previously raised in writing by me and others. If it cannot resolve any of those points, according to its terms of reference,

“this will be handled as a matter of urgency through the chairman communicating to the trust”

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on behalf of the health overview and scrutiny committee. So our arguments and objections will be safe in the hands of Councillor Pat West and Katrina Percy, supported, no doubt, by the zealous Dr Stevens.

What then should Ministers do? At a meeting with Keith Mans and me on 26 March following an earlier exchange at Prime Minister’s questions, the Minister here today explained that Ministers cannot intervene to pause the process or have an audit carried out unless the HOSC refers the matter to the Secretary of State; but he did confirm that such a referral could still be made. Ministers’ hands are not completely tied, nor should they be given the deplorable tale I have set out today. If a Minister were to say that to restore a degree of public confidence he would welcome a referral to the Secretary of State, and if he were to invite and encourage such a referral to be made, it would be surprising if the committee rebuffed such an expression of concern. If he is unwilling to do so immediately—I quite understand if that is the case, although I would love it if he did—I expect Ministers to consider doing so later, when reflecting on my narrative.

It would be easy to summarise this story as that of a trust that could not be trusted with its own statistics and of a committee chairman who deceived an MP about a vital meeting. However, what it is really about is carers such as Mary Bryant, nurses such as Jane Barnicoat-Chongwe and, above all, service users such as Andrew Evans. It costs nothing to applaud such people, but applause will not help them. What they need is a Minister to grip this situation and send an unmistakable message to the scrutiny committee that he stands ready and willing to bring in the Independent Reconfiguration Panel on referral of the matter to the Secretary of State.

10.2 am

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): I pay tribute to my parliamentary neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), not only for the outstanding work he has done to highlight this important issue, which is of grave concern to his constituents and to many residents of southern Hampshire, but for his tireless work to analyse bed availability within the Southern Health trust area. From what he has told us this morning, there can be little doubt that the work done to analyse and challenge the statistics of bed usage, including the somewhat confusing question of what is an available bed and what is simply a leave bed, has taken a great deal of time.

What many of my constituents and other local residents want is to make sure that the outcome of the process is correct for local users of adult mental health services. As my hon. Friend has correctly indentified, this is not an argument about the philosophy of how best to care for those in need. There will always be a need for acute in-patient beds, although we certainly believe there is potential to improve arrangements and thus avoid in-patient admission for those who can be successfully and safely treated in the community. However, what has not been clarified throughout this process is the number of beds that there are in the system and the number of beds that are needed. My hon. Friend has certainly done sterling work over the past few months analysing bed usage, and I do not intend to repeat any of those statistics—we have heard in great detail what may or may not be

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available. Suffice it to say that, in the past six months, there have been many occasions when there have been no vacant beds across the service.

On top of that, there are many valid questions from service users in my constituency about the choices made about which beds should remain available in the locality. At the start of the year, I attended a meeting organised and hosted by my hon. Friend to learn more about the concerns of local service users and to hear at first hand how important the provision at Woodhaven is to local people, their families and their carers. Given the location of Woodhaven and the distribution of mental health beds across Hampshire, it is inevitable that this closure will impact on not only the constituents of my good Friend, but those of several Members across southern Hampshire. As my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne) has indicated, mental health problems are no respecter of, and trust boundaries are not contiguous with, constituency boundaries.

Of course, when discussing reconfiguration of health services, frequently the focus is on location, and service users will emphasise the distance of travel to get to a facility, the availability of public transport and how convenient it is for loved ones to come and visit. Interestingly, when discussing Woodhaven, that was not the message I received from service users or their families. Indeed, if we were to analyse the journey times and the ease of access, it is possible to argue that, for the vast majority of my constituents, Woodhaven is simply not as accessible as alternative provision at Melbury Lodge in Winchester. Woodhaven is a great deal further away for many people, and the public transport links are much poorer.

However, location has simply not been the focus for any of my constituents who have had experience of either Woodhaven or Melbury Lodge, or indeed both. Far from emphasising convenience, my constituents’ concern has been regarding the quality of provision. The questions they have posed have been eminently sensible. Why is it proposed to deprive acutely ill patients of the benefit of 24 modern en-suite beds that were opened only eight years ago? Why would the trust choose to keep the facility that is not as good, that does not afford the same level of privacy and dignity and that has no en-suite facilities at all? I would like to highlight the comments made to me by just two constituents who have contacted me. The first wrote:

“My wife has been an inpatient at both Woodhaven and Melbury Lodge. Melbury Lodge isn’t anywhere near the standard of Woodhaven. Woodhaven is very pleasant, with a lovely atmosphere. Melbury Lodge by comparison is very intimidating with a lock down high security approach. This may be appropriate for some of their patients but for the majority it’s just scary.”

The second constituent provided me with a very detailed account of his mental health issues, a suicide attempt in 2008, and his own stay at Woodhaven under section. He wrote:

“Having been an inpatient at Woodhaven I would emphasise the privacy. Having a breakdown surrounded by others who do not respect your privacy is very difficult. When I was in acute crisis I desperately needed short term care and support, it would be a disaster for local service users if those high quality short term beds were lost in favour of a less good facility, or worst case scenario, no bed at all.”

I pay tribute to one of my hon. Friend’s constituents, who made a lasting impression on me at the meeting mentioned earlier. He had been an in-patient under

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section at both Melbury Lodge and Woodhaven and, again, it was the privacy aspect he emphasised. While an in-patient at Woodhaven, he felt he had retained his dignity by being able to have his own bathroom. That clearly made an enormous difference to him personally, and I think we can safely draw the conclusion that a feeling of having some personal space and privacy can greatly improve the overall sense of well-being and aid the chances of a swifter recovery.

I have absolutely no doubt that the facility at Woodhaven is of an extremely high standard; we know that from the comments made by consultant psychiatrists. We know that the demand for short-term acute beds is high, and that one in four of the population suffers from some level of mental health problems at one time or other during their life. We also know that the NHS trust’s figures on bed usage and length of stay at the unit have been called into question. Is now the right time to press ahead with a closure, or is it timely to call a pause to the process until such time as the disputed statistics have been independently analysed?

10.8 am

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): I will speak briefly in support of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). We have joined together on many occasions to campaign on the provision of acute mental health facilities, and today I shall express my concerns about how these processes are being undertaken by primary care trusts across the country. If anybody wants to see why the health care reforms that the Minister has fought so valiantly to introduce are needed, PCTs’ actions and decisions to close mental health facilities are the perfect example and demonstrate how they are out of touch, need reform and need to change.

Sadly, three weeks ago South Staffordshire PCT took the decision to close Margaret Stanhope Centre, a unit of 18 acute mental health beds in my constituency. It took that decision not only in the face of huge opposition from local people—8,200 people signed a petition as part of a campaign run by my local newspaper the Burton Mail and the Friends of Margaret Stanhope campaign group—but in the face of the evidence. I am a new Member of Parliament, elected for the first time at the last general election, and I had always assumed that such decisions were based on fact and on evidence—that the PCTs that took such important and often life-threatening decisions would be able to stand up to defend their decisions by proving their case. However, in the closure of the Margaret Stanhope Centre the PCT acted irresponsibly, recklessly and had no factual evidence to back up its decisions.

We conducted some research and found an Audit Commission report: 46 PCTs across the country had taken part in a benchmarking exercise, and the report showed that the average provision of acute mental health beds in those 46 PCTs was 27.5 beds per 100,000. In my trust, however, provision was 14.5 beds—almost half that average. The PCT then prayed in aid the following report, produced during the consultation process. It claimed that, miraculously, its provision had shot up to 31 per 100,000, and that there was nothing to fear.

I tried to get the facts. I tried to get the information. I asked and I asked and I asked for independent data. When the data came, they showed that the PCT had got

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its figure wrong: provision was not 31 beds per 100,000, but 22. However, when analysing the raw data, the PCT had included such things as mother and baby post-natal depression beds, beds for eating disorders, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation, so actually the figure for provision came out at 13.2. The PCT then prayed in aid an independent report that it had commissioned from Staffordshire university. We asked for that report. When we received it—it took two and a half months to come—we found that the person who had conducted the independent report, Dr Eleanor Bradley, was being paid not only by Staffordshire university, but by the NHS trust. The independent report that it claimed demonstrated how safe it was to close the Margaret Stanhope Centre was actually conducted by somebody on its payroll.

One claim made in the report was that the PCT had been able, through a pilot scheme, to reduce the in-patient stay by a third, but when we managed to drag the report out from the PCT, we discovered a number of things. First, we discovered that for stays in Margaret Stanhope of more than 91 days, it had managed to reduce average stays beyond 91 days by more than a third, from 39 days to 23—a reduction of 41%. However, the vast majority of admissions—88%—were between two and 90 days, and there the reduction was just 1.1%. The PCT claimed to have reduced in-patient stay by a third, but had actually reduced it by just 1.1%. I could go on about how flawed was the evidence used by my PCT to justify the closing of a much loved and much valued unit that serves the most vulnerable in my community. The process began some four years ago, so this is not a party political point, but a point about the actions of the PCT.

We met three weeks ago to discuss the passionate campaign for the continued existence of the unit. The process used to make that decision—

Dr William McCrea (in the Chair): Order. May I draw the hon. Member’s attention to the fact that we are having a debate on the closure of acute adult mental health beds in Hampshire? I am sure that he is building his case from his experience, but it must be linked directly with the situation in Hampshire.

Andrew Griffiths: Forgive me, Dr McCrea. I will do exactly that and draw my speech to a close.

What I have seen is that the processes are flawed. What I have seen is that PCTs cannot be trusted to make the decision in Staffordshire and they cannot be trusted to make the decision in Hampshire. It is essential that we reassure the most vulnerable in our communities and in society. It is essential that the Minister understands their concerns properly and reassures himself that the decisions being made in Hampshire, and the decisions made in Staffordshire, are correct and are based on fact and evidence. I urge the Minister to train his laser-like vision on this important issue and to reassure himself, so that he, we and our constituents can be confident that mental health provision in Hampshire and in the rest of the country is not being jeopardised by false decisions made by people who are unaccountable, unelected and are not making those decisions in the best interests of our constituents.

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10.16 am

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I commend the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) for securing the debate. Health matters are devolved in Northern Ireland and I do not have a direct input into them, but I do have compassion for those who are less well off and that is why I am here as an MP. I want to try to change lives for the better. I recognise the issues that affect the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. He outlined clearly where the process works and where it has not worked, which is what we are debating today. As MPs, we look at the grand scheme of politics—we are all drawn to do that—but today I want to support the hon. Gentleman on the issue specific to his constituency and give an example from my area to illustrate the importance of acute mental bed provision.

As we all know, acute mental health bed provision is vital. Those who use it do so because they have to. The reason such provision is made is to ensure that they receive all the care they need in the best place for that care to be given. The hon. Gentleman outlined how and why the 56 acute mental health beds in his area were removed. That that should happen without full and open consultation with the MP who represents the area or with the many people who are affected greatly by the removal is nothing short of scandalous.

In my constituency, I am aware of the care that is needed for those with acute mental health problems. As you will know, Dr McCrea, the Bamford review raised awareness of mental health issues in Northern Ireland and the importance of having provision for them. It stated that nothing should happen until all the parts were in place, and that if something was to be removed there had to be something else there to take its place. The Bamford review was very important for Northern Ireland.

It has been suggested what the bed closures will mean. According to the background information, if someone is not in hospital, they will be at home. If so, has provision been made for them? The hon. Gentleman described how the system worked and how the consultation process did not involve everyone. Perhaps it did not look fully—it should have done—at how those at home, receiving care in the community, will be affected. Is that care of sufficient value and weight to fit the gap that has opened because of bed closures? I do not know whether it is or not, but back home, when there were changes, we also had to ensure that there was provision for care at home. That is important for those with acute mental health issues. I am not sure, from what I have heard so far, that that has been done in the case the hon. Gentleman has raised. I hope that the Minister can give us some idea of how that will work out.

The hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) mentioned another problem. Sometimes, Members of Parliament think that they represent problems specific to their constituency, but they are not really, because all hon. Members represent people similarly and similar problems occur in Hampshire, Dorset, Scotland, Wales and in my constituency of Strangford in Northern Ireland. Last year, after changes were made, one of my constituents affected by mental health issues would have had to travel some 40 to 50 miles on a bus, because there was no car provision. To illustrate the point, we got on the bus and did the whole journey together, me and her, to the destination.

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There and back, the journey took seven hours and cost £39.40, not to mention the annoyance, hassle and problems that occurred. Whenever people talk about removing beds, they have to consider what happens outside that, including the effect on provision of care packages at home and on the families, and how they get from their home to the hospital whenever a person needs care. I am not sure that, when decisions are taken, people understand that families are also involved. It is not just about the person with the acute mental health problems, but about the families as well. When a stone is thrown into the water and it hits the centre, the ripples spread out: the centre is the person with the acute mental health needs, but the ripples spread out to the family, the community and everywhere else.

The hon. Member for New Forest East mentioned a petition with 1,000 names. I do not agree with Councillor Pat West, who commented that 1,000 names is only a small portion. A thousand names on a petition is a very great number and, I believe, represents a large part of the community.

Dr Lewis: For the sake of fairness, let me say that it was the chief executive of the NHS trust, Miss Percy, who sought to dismiss the petition in that way. The trust said that it had tried to validate it and said that a number of people professed not to know about having signed it. How big or small that number was, I have yet to discover.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Gentleman. The name stands corrected in Hansard for us all, including me. I still say that 1,000 names can never be ignored. Ignore them at your peril, because those 1,000 people have families and so on, and the numbers are important.

The loss of beds puts pressure on a great many people. The hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) spoke about the practicalities. It is important that we consider those, because before anything is done, people have to look at their effect further on. From what I have heard today, it is clear that this process has not been truthfully, honestly and fairly carried out.

To illustrate my point further and give examples, back home there has been pressure on mental health and acute mental health beds. I have pressed in this regard, as have other hon. Members—you have been involved as well, Dr McCrea, and the end result is a new 30-bed unit in Templepatrick, in your constituency. That is a £10 million to £15 million project undertaken in partnership with the health service, private enterprise and private monies as well. The unit is for acute mental health issues. I have become aware of some mental health issues over the years. People who have anorexia and bulimia have acute mental health issues to address; they feel that, no matter how thin they are, they are not thin enough. The 30-bed unit in your constituency, Dr McCrea, is there because of the vision of some of those in private enterprise, and individuals, who have worked with the Minister, Edwin Poots, to ensure provision.

I commend the hon. Member for New Forest East for bringing this matter to the House. Any closure or removal of mental health beds impacts not only on those who need them, but on families who have to live with their family members’ trauma and, wider afield, on the whole community, which also shoulders the burden.

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I look forward to the Minister’s response, which I am sure will be full and helpful. Again, I hope that we will get the answer that the hon. Member for New Forest East needs, confirming the retention of the beds, because that is the best way forward.

10.26 am

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship as always, Dr McCrea, and to contribute to this important debate. I commend the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) for ensuring that this issue is raised in Parliament and for the comprehensive, forceful and eloquent case that he and his colleague, the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), made for protecting services in Hampshire. After contributions from his colleague from the not-quite-neighbouring county of Staffordshire, the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), and from Northern Ireland—the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—we are indeed a United Kingdom in making the case for adult acute mental health care beds.

Given the huge changes that are going on in the NHS, it is important that we do not forget those who are genuinely most in need. Mental health services and mental health provision have often been referred to as the Cinderella service. It is crucial that the provisions for those with mental health needs do not slip down the gaps in health care provision.

The hon. Member for New Forest East forcefully raised local concerns about the plans of the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, and he is right to do so. This debate is important, because statistically one in four of us will experience a mental health problem in our lifetime—an example of how we live our lives in the 21st century. Mental ill health will soon be the biggest burden on society, both economically and sociologically, costing some £105 billion a year. The World Health Organisation predicts that, by 2030, more people will be affected by depression than any other health problem.

The previous Labour Government made important progress on mental health, with the national service framework early on and the improving access to psychological therapies programme towards the end. But we must also look to the wider challenges of modern life. People are living longer, less stable, more stressful and isolated lives. It is clear that there is still a tendency not to talk openly about mental health. The stiff-upper-lip culture is ingrained in our society, at home, in our work places and, yes, even in Government and Parliament.

The challenges of 21st century living demand a rethink in our approach to mental health. We need to consider a number of issues. For people to get the support that they need from the NHS to live full and economically active lives, and if it is to be sustainable in the 21st century, mental health must move from the edges to the centre of the NHS. Also, we can no longer look at people’s physical health, social care and mental health as three separate systems. They must be part of one vision for a modern health care system. Changes in our public services will be successful only if matched by a wider change in attitudes towards mental health.

We need to pay attention to and look at the stigma surrounding mental health, because not only must people face the direct effects of depression but their problems

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can be compounded by the reactions of others. People do not feel able to admit to having a problem that could change their employment and prospects or lose them their friends. With most illnesses, people get a sympathetic shoulder to cry on, but with mental illness, they may get the cold shoulder. Even if people admit a problem, family and friends might not know how to advise them adequately. The public debate that has been so powerfully led by Stephen Fry, Frank Bruno and others is therefore tremendously important. It is essential that the excellent “Time to Change” campaign, led by Mind and Rethink and funded by the Department of Health, ultimately prevails.

The specific issue of today’s debate was put so eloquently by the hon. Member for New Forest East. I do not wish to stray into the politics of Hampshire’s health overview and scrutiny committee, nor into the internal politics of the local Conservative party—fun though that might be—but he made some important points. It would be helpful if the Minister clarified whether he has seen any meaningful assessment of how many mental health beds there should be in Hampshire. Of course, trusts all over the country have to make efficiency savings, but cutting front-line services and making efficiency savings are two very different things. So although I understand the need for referral from the health overview and scrutiny committee to the Minister, has he been able to analyse whether there is an adequate supply of beds for mental health patients throughout the county of Hampshire, particularly if required in an emergency admission? Is there adequate capacity? If so, has there been an assessment of future operations with the reduced beds available?

I ask those questions not least because the hon. Member for New Forest East made it clear that the statistics that he had obtained contradict the statistics that have been put forward by his local NHS trust and that are being used by the health overview and scrutiny committee. To move forward, we need certainty, clarity and confidence in those statistics, so that decisions made locally are based on sound statistics. We will see more instances of trusts forced to make difficult decisions. Indeed, we have heard what is happening in other parts of the country today. Such decisions will undoubtedly have real consequences for the care received by patients, not least because of the combined effect of the Nicholson challenge, set in train by the previous Government, and the huge top-down reorganisation pushed through by this Government under the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

Finally, mental health is an equality issue, and social progress in the 21st century depends on us waking up to that fact. Children from the poorest 20% of households are at a threefold greater risk of mental health problems than children from the most affluent 20% of households. We will only have a fairer and more equal society in this century if we work to change attitudes to mental health and to look at a whole-person approach to health care, so that the problems that we might all face at some point in our lives do not stop us from reaching our potential. Again, I commend the hon. Gentleman for putting his case for mental health in Hampshire so forcefully. I, too, look forward to the Minister’s response.

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10.33 am

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): It is a pleasure, yet again, to attend a debate under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea.

The commitment of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) is quite evident, because not only is this the second debate on the issue in the past five months but he has had ministerial meetings. He has championed the interests of his constituents, as expected of an assiduous Member of the House. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) on her speech and on how she represented the views and concerns of her constituents on a difficult and sensitive issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) managed, intriguingly, to merge Burton and Strangford into the southern county of Hampshire. To do so took political skill—debating skill—but they achieved it and made some interesting points that were a valuable contribution to the debate.

I have to say, however, that I am not quite sure what more I can say in response to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East following our meeting of 26 March, when we discussed the matter. My hon. Friend has campaigned vigorously since the autumn of last year against Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust’s proposed redesign of acute adult mental health services in Hampshire, and in particular against the withdrawal of the adult in-patient mental health ward at Woodhaven hospital in his constituency. Nevertheless, in the course of my remarks, I will seek to explain and to lay out the policy towards the provision of mental health care in Hampshire and the knock-on effects elsewhere.

The debate also gives me the opportunity to thank all the NHS staff who work in the field of mental health and, in particular, the staff at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, who do a fantastic job, day in, day out, looking after some of the most vulnerable and frail members of our society with complex medical problems. Locking into the valid point made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), the staff must also combat the stigma associated with mental health issues. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to congratulate Stephen Fry, Mind, Rethink and others who work continuously to break down such barriers. I will be a little more generous politically, because the Major Government in the mid-1990s and the previous Labour Governments of Tony Blair and the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) did a tremendous amount of work to help bring down barriers and reduce stigma. The trouble is that there is still a long way to go and none of us can relax in fighting that battle.

If one suffers from an acute medical problem, people are all too willing to make hospital visits, to ring up and to inquire after someone’s general well-being, but it is a disgrace that if one’s mental health is suffering, people still too often do not want to find out or are frightened to ask. Even worse, the family and friends of people who suffer from mental illness want to ignore it or hush it up. The patients themselves are often too scared to allude to their medical problems because they are fearful of the response that they might get from family—less often—or friends and, generally, from people in the

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community. That is our challenge, and that is why I am so full of admiration for people in the NHS and elsewhere in the charitable and voluntary sector who do so much work, not only to look after people at a particularly vulnerable time in their lives but as ambassadors in seeking to break down the barriers and the stigma.

As I explained to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East when we met recently, the reconfiguration of local health services is exactly that—a matter for the local NHS. Although he is calling for a halt to the closure of beds at Woodhaven, Ministers cannot and should not be seen to interfere. My hon. Friend, who is generous and courteous, tried to tempt me —he slightly sugared the pill by suggesting that, if not today, perhaps upon reflection—to send out a message, almost like the white smoke that appears from the Vatican when a new Pope is elected, to the trust, and if not to the trust, certainly to the Hampshire HOSC, saying how much I would welcome a referral to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Dr Lewis: Do it.

Mr Burns: I know that nothing would give my hon. Friend greater pleasure, but I must warn him that I have been here too long to fall into that pit. It would completely compromise the independence of local government. I am sure he agrees that all too often, Governments of different political parties have been criticised for interfering too much in local government, and that local councillors are elected to local authorities to make decisions about matters that they, because of their representation of their constituents, are most familiar with. It would not be the way forward for a heavy-handed Minister at 79 Whitehall to issue messages of welcome for things. It would compromise the ethos and independence of local democracy, and the way in which local people elect local councillors to represent their views. Therefore, I must disappoint my hon. Friend.

Andrew Griffiths: I am a fan of localism, and I completely support what the Minister says, but does he not recognise that there is a massive lack of democratic accountability in how PCTs operate? No one elects them. They make decisions, and they are accountable only to themselves and ultimately to the Minister.

Mr Burns: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and I have total sympathy with it. It is precisely why we are abolishing PCTs on 1 April next year, and why we are creating the clinical commissioning groups under the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Those groups will consist of GPs, who are most familiar with their patients’ needs and requirements, and will commission care for their patients, and create the health and wellbeing boards which will, for the first time in a generation, have democratic accountability because they will include locally elected councillors and will have responsibility under the Act and the reforms to look out for and to ensure that the needs of the local health economy are being met in local communities. That is a positive and straightforward step in addressing the very problem that my hon. Friend raised.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East, decisions on reconfiguration of services will be made by the local health economy, not Ministers

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in Whitehall. He will be aware that planned changes to in-patient mental health beds in Hampshire have been the subject of local discussions since 2009-10. However, to reiterate the clinical case for change, it will allow investment in better alternatives to in-patient care by increasing home treatment, and developing other measures to support people outside hospital in Hampshire. The number of in-patient beds will decrease by 58, from the current total of 165, to 107. That addresses the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North about how many beds were involved from the start to the finish of the process. The change will also enable growth in community reablement services in the New Forest to help and support people with longer-term mental health needs, allowing them to live a more independent and fulfilling life when that is clinically appropriate.

Doctors and other professionals, the public and service users have all been involved in this process in Hampshire from the outset, and their views have always been taken into account, even when they were not supportive of the proposals and the proposals were not radically changed or abandoned.

Dr Lewis: It is true that there has been public consultation. It is also true that soon afterwards an analysis of the responses listed concern about this, that and the other. If I remember correctly, the consultation ended in October last year, and it took me until March to get the trust to admit that the heavy majority of people who responded to the consultation were against the bed closures. It consults, and then carries on as though nothing has happened.

Mr Burns: I appreciate that point, and I will come to it.

I must reiterate that decisions on the reconfiguration of services are, as with all reconfiguration, for the local health economy to make, led by local people, local GPs and local clinicians. I have been assured that the proposed changes are supported by the majority of GPs, most but not all clinicians and the clinical commissioning group in the New Forest, as well as the Hampshire HOSC. I listened to the procedures and activities of the Hampshire HOSC and what happened at its meetings, but my hon. Friend will appreciate that those decisions do not come within Ministers’ responsibilities.

The Hampshire HOSC consists of elected county councillors who are responsible for and accountable to their local communities, and they made the decision not to refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I am sure that my hon. Friend accepts that I cannot dictate—I would not seek to, because it would be inappropriate—what an HOSC should do. It is an independent body with democratic accountability, and it will consider the sort of complaints that my hon. Friend and others have raised to see whether, on balance, it believes that they could lead to its deciding that the proposed reconfiguration is inappropriate and that it should be referred to my right hon. Friend with a request that it is then sent to the independent reconfiguration panel.

The problem for my hon. Friend and others who oppose the proposal is that that body, which has the power to seek a referral, has so far refused to do so. I am sure that my hon. Friend will accept that not only

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do I have no right or power to do that, but it would be totally inappropriate for me as a Minister to seek to interfere with the working of that local government committee and its decisions.

Dr Lewis: I fully respect and accept the Minister’s point. Will he reiterate the point that he made at our previous meeting that even now, if it chose to do so, the HOSC could make that referral to the Secretary of State?

Mr Burns: I can reiterate that if the HOSC decides—my hon. Friend said during his eloquent speech that there will be a further meeting in May—that there is new evidence, or whatever, and that it wants to reverse that decision, nothing in the rules and procedures prevents it from doing so. However, it has had two meetings and has heard the evidence and arguments, and the pros and cons, and has not decided so far to take that decision. It has decided not to make a referral to my right hon. Friend. I do not know whether it will change its mind at the meeting in May, and it is not for me to speculate, or to try to influence it. However, in theory, if it wished to make that referral, it could.

I understand that the trust is investing more than £1.3 million in community services and developing alternative patient care in Hampshire. For example, four new specialist liaison staff will help service users to move more easily from in-patient care to the community, and crisis funds will help service users who may struggle to pay things such as deposits on accommodation and household items, or electricity and gas charge cards. As my hon. Friend will accept, it is important to have plans and measures in place so that those people for whom treatment is more appropriate in the home or the community have the structures to help them ensure that that happens. Mental health services are no different from those for acute care, and no one wants to be in hospital for a day longer than they have to be. If it is more appropriate to care for someone in a home setting, with proper support and access to services, or in the community, that is better for the patient. However, such care must be based on a clinical decision about what is most appropriate.

More than 50 staff will form part of hospital-at-home teams, providing intensive support to people where they live and helping them to remain or return to their homes. They will also help to prevent readmission to hospital. In the west of Hampshire, three members of staff will work to support service users who have more complex mental health needs and to help them to gain emotional and vocational skills that will support their recovery and health.

The launch of those services, which are still in their early days, has shown that service users are able to re-establish links with their community and gain the confidence to adapt to home and family life. As a result of the investment, the trust has seen people staying in hospital for a shorter period of time because they receive more intensive support both before they leave hospital and afterwards in the community.

Independent service user and carer groups—for example, the west Hants area service user involvement project or the Princess Royal Trust for Carers—have worked closely

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with the trust to develop plans, and they have been supportive of the changes. The service user-led recovery philosophy for mental health services has underpinned many of those proposed changes.

As I said earlier, the proposed changes have had throughout the full support of GPs, most clinicians, service users and the HOSC, thereby demonstrating the importance of locally led change at the heart of our NHS. As my hon. Friend alluded to, the Hampshire HOSC last met on 27 March, and its chair wrote to Katrina Percy, the chief executive at the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, advising her that pausing the proposed changes would not be in the best interests of local people who were affected by them.

Of course, the HOSC recognises that local people are worried about the changes, and that is why it has agreed to set up a small task and finish group to discuss the concerns raised at the meeting on 27 March. The group will report its findings at the HOSC meeting scheduled for 22 May 2012. In the meantime, let me say that the changes proposed in Hampshire are not unusual—we got a flavour of that from my hon. Friend the Member for Burton, who I know has conducted a vigorous campaign about elements of the proposals in his county that he considers to be deeply flawed.

Dr Lewis: On a slightly lighter note, the Minister may be interested to know that the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust appears to think that what it has been doing is a suitable model and template for the whole country. It has applied for NHS funding because it wants to design a

“comprehensive, independent service evaluation...to inform day-to-day operational business context”


“future modelling of service changes.”

Instead of giving the trust more NHS money, perhaps the Minister should provide it with a link to today’s debate, which will show everyone exactly how such trusts go about their reconfigurations.

Mr Burns: That is an interesting point that gives one side of the argument. I do not want to labour the point, but unfortunately the other side of the argument suggests that most GPs and clinicians, together with many service users and the HOSC, have so far not shared that view because in various ways they have been supportive of what the trust is doing. That is a serious problem for my hon. Friend, because the nub of the argument is that the democratically elected overview and scrutiny committee has so far refused, or felt it unnecessary, to decide that the trust’s proposals should be referred to the Secretary of State and then to the independent reconfiguration panel. That is the mountain that my hon. Friend has to climb, and as with most arguments there are two views about the effectiveness, efficiency and correctness of the proposals. So far, he is on the losing side within the rules and the way that things are done locally.

Hampshire is not unusual, but the important point is to achieve the best possible outcomes for people in mental health crisis. Significant changes have been made to community and hospital services, so that they become more responsive to people’s needs and more attentive to the physical environments in which care is received.

Other mental health trusts in England have already reduced the number of in-patient beds, so that more support can be given to people in familiar and appropriate

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surroundings, such as their own homes. Local changes are in line with the “no health without mental health” strategy that was launched on 2 February 2011. As my hon. Friend will know, that is a cross-governmental mental health outcomes strategy for people of all ages, with the twin aims of improving the population’s mental health and improving mental health services. The strategy takes a life course approach and sends the message that prevention and early intervention are key priorities. It also stresses the interdependence of mental and physical health—a point raised by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish.

The bulk of the strategy will be delivered locally—as it should be—by experts on the ground working with service users and their families and carers. At national level, our early years policies, including health visitors and the pupil premium, are about helping children and young families to get the best start. We expect that investment to save the NHS £272 million, which will then be available to doctors and nurses for reinvestment in front-line services. That will save the public sector £704 million over the next six years—again, that money can be reinvested in front-line services, which I am sure all hon. Members would agree is where it should go.

As the Department of Health completes the nationwide roll-out of psychological therapy services for adults who suffer from depression or anxiety disorders, we will pay particular attention to ensuring appropriate access for people over 65 years of age. We have also committed an extra £7.2 million for mental health services for veterans—a key point given what is happening in that area of mental health.

Many patients who suffer from long-term conditions do not expect a long stay in hospital. They expect to be treated promptly and then discharged, so that they can go home and continue to recover with proper support and access to proper care and treatment. That is the most important thing. Patients in my hon. Friend’s constituency, those of all Hampshire MPs or, indeed, throughout the country who suffer from mental health problems must receive appropriate and swift care and be looked after to the highest standards and in the most appropriate setting. That lies at the heart of the problems highlighted by my hon. Friend.

In conclusion, my hon. Friend should continue his discussions not with a Minister with a heavy-handed approach who dictates things from Whitehall, but with democratically elected councillors and others on the ground in his constituency and in Hampshire.

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Young Entrepreneurs

10.59 am

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): I called for this debate on encouraging young entrepreneurs in order to focus our support for business on the next potential generation of wealth creators. During my time as an MP, I have focused much effort on supporting businesses. That is based on my experience of owning my own company and the regular business and retail forums that I organise in Swindon. I myself was a real wheeler-dealer when I was at school—if someone needed football stickers, comics or school lockers, I was their man. I want that type of young entrepreneurial flair to be promoted and supported.

I note that in the debates on business and enterprise, we often do not focus on encouraging young people to consider, as a career path, setting up their own business. When I go round talking to young people in schools and colleges, I find that they are incentivised by incredibly popular television programmes such as “The Apprentice” and “Dragons’ Den”. When I ask them to put their hands up if they would be interested in setting up their own business, the hands shoot up. In many ways, that is the perfect time for people to start their own business. Once people are a bit older and have children and a mortgage, they have a lot to lose. For a young person with a good idea, often the worst that can happen is that they will blow their savings.

When hands are thrust up into the air enthusiastically to show that those young people are keen to follow in the footsteps of those they have seen on “The Apprentice” and “Dragons’ Den”, I ask a follow-up question: “How many of you will take this up as a career?” Immediately, the hands go down, there is a deafening silence and tumbleweed rolls across the room. I ask why that is the case and it transpires that they simply do not know how to turn those ideas and that enthusiasm into setting up a business. It is crucial that we change that, because just over 1 million 16 to 24-year-olds are unemployed and 25% of graduates cannot find work. Many of the graduates who do find work do not necessarily use their degrees; they do not necessarily work in the areas in which they gained their qualifications. In addition, we as a nation are seeking to rebalance the economy.

Those are clear reasons why we should be supporting young entrepreneurs. I am delighted that the Government are right behind that. The decision to create 40,000 business mentors is key. I will come on to that. We have also had the exciting announcement of the £10 million pilot of an enterprise loan scheme that will give young people access to finance in a similar way to the student loan concept.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining the debate. I remember well starting my own company some 32 years ago. I do not claim to be a wheeler-dealer like the hon. Gentleman; nevertheless, we managed to succeed. Does he agree that although it is important to encourage young entrepreneurs, we need to get to grips with the issues of financing young entrepreneurs and the bureaucracy and form-filling that they have to go through, which puts many young people off?

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Justin Tomlinson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for being someone who took the plunge and set up his own business. I will say that when I was at school, not all my businesses went according to plan. A thriving comic business was thwarted when my friend William’s yoghurt pot exploded in his bag, destroying our entire back collection of comics, so we do not always succeed. The hon. Gentleman is right, and I want to focus later on some of the ways in which we can help people.

With regard to schools and colleges, I want as many schools as possible to encourage entrepreneurial opportunities. That can be done in a variety of ways. For example, there are a number of courses that schools could offer students. Those courses include the ifs School of Finance certificate and diploma in financial studies and the finance baccalaureate being piloted at King Edward VI college in Stourbridge, backed by the Royal Bank of Scotland. They are examples of where young people can do courses to encourage entrepreneurial flair. In some schools, that could be an appropriate way to encourage it.

We should also get schools to embrace the opportunities given to them by the fantastic young enterprise scheme. That gave me my first proper taste of running a business while I was at school. I understand that 250,000 students a year have the chance to try their hand at making money. I want to encourage every school possible to take that up and give their young people that brilliant opportunity. We should give students the chance to do that and we should also support them by getting lots of mentors who are connected to the school to support the young enterprise scheme. For example, a simple letter could be sent to all the parents saying, “Are any of you business people? Can you come and help with the young enterprise scheme?”

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend is saying about the need for support and for mentoring. Is he aware of the work that NACUE, the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs, is doing? With regard to the point that he is making about schools, does he agree that similar support needs to be provided as people exit schools? This issue should not be considered only when young people are leaving universities and colleges. The concepts of mentoring, advice and business incubators should be considered at school, not just at university.

Justin Tomlinson: I thank my hon. Friend for that very helpful intervention. I will refer to that organisation later, but she is spot-on, because what I will talk about in relation to universities can be replicated to boost the young enterprise scheme.

I have seen a number of young enterprise schemes in action—partly when I was a student myself, but also while visiting schools and colleges since becoming an MP. I have only one slight issue with some of the schemes that I see. They are set up so that young people raise money from their friends. They sell goods to their friends—they know what their friends want to buy—and they sell them in their friends’ environment. That means that they can cash in a favour, as it were. They can say, “Look, I’ll go to the cinema with you on Friday if you’ll buy my T-shirt off me today.” That is great, but I want young people to have more real-life experience, so I have

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struck up a deal in my constituency with the Blunsdon indoor market. That is a challenging market environment in which price is key and the customers are very savvy about haggling.

New college, in the South Swindon constituency, which many of my local students attend, is involved. The young people will take their young enterprise business and have three days of trading—a Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. They have to comply with strict rules. If they have not set up their pitch by 9 in the morning, they lose that day’s trading. They get only a table, so they have to dress that table up, but of course if they get too carried away with that, they will have no money left and will not make a profit. They have to do research to see which products are already being sold, where the gap in the market is and what they can do. They have to stand on their own two feet—and trade on their feet all day long. They have to be able to do mental arithmetic, because the customers will haggle. This is something in which the local media are particularly interested. I am delighted to say that the market will then identify the businesses that do well and say to them, “You can come back in the summer holidays at a discounted rate.”

That scheme could be the first door opening to young people starting their own businesses. The owner of the Superdry clothing company started on a market stall and is now turning over £165 million a day. The Mary Portas high street review said that every town centre should have market stall days, although there are not enough market stall traders. I have now asked Swindon borough council to identify which retail premises in the town centre it cannot lease out at the moment in order to look at giving short-term leases to allow young entrepreneurs just to dabble. Those types of short-term contract can always be found in office blocks. People pay a little more rent, so they would do it only short term, but it enables them to test the water. We need to see the same in retail. I hope that the concept involving New college and Blunsdon market will be a success and provide a model for others to follow.

Turning to universities, I did a business and marketing degree. There were 350 of us and, to the best of my knowledge, I am the only one of those 350 who went on to set up their own business, which ultimately employed people, which is what this country needs. That is in part because 29 of the 30-odd modules that I did focused my mind on how to be good on the corporate ladder. My work placement year was spent in the corporate environment. Entrepreneurial risk taking and flair was in a way educated out of me.

On that point, my old university was Oxford Brookes and I am delighted to say that having met some Virgin Media pioneers—I will say more about them later—they showed me some of their peer-to-peer mentors and I stumbled across Rebecca Hunter, the vice-president of the Oxford Brookes society for entrepreneurs. This scheme has been set up at a number of universities across the country by NACUE, the organisation highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris). It is a fantastic scheme. I spoke to Rebecca last night and asked her how it works. She told me that there are 3,000 people on the mailing list at Oxford Brookes university and 600 people attended the events last year. It is about business mentors coming in and giving people practical advice. The best part is that a number of the students involved in the society are

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already operating their own businesses. Some are doing so to pay for their university costs and some are setting themselves up for their lives post university. That is absolutely fantastic, and I would urge as many universities as possible to make time available for these things and to encourage people to do them. When it comes to the work-placement years, we should look at how students can run their own businesses, rather than simply be a marketing assistant in a sandpaper department, as I was.

I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the number of fantastic outside organisations that are doing their bit to support young entrepreneurs. I do not have time to mention them all, so I will pick just a few. Perhaps surprisingly, the first is the Scouts. My fiancée, Jo, and I had the pleasure of being invited to act, in effect, as “Dragons’ Den” business mentors and advisers to the Stratton St Margaret first scout group. The entrepreneurs badge is new, but 10,000 children have already taken it, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), who I share an office with, will be encouraging his son, George, to take it as soon as he joins the Scouts.

I learned two things from my experience. First, the kids absolutely loved doing the badge. They spent the first three weeks raising money. In a similar way to people on the young enterprise scheme, they came up with their business concepts. There were two teams, which Jo and I had to judge. They were both very creative. Indeed, as soon as we arrived, the first team said, “You look thirsty. Can we make you a cup of tea?” Spotting a way to influence our decision, the second team then said, “You look hungry. Here’s a cake.” That worked, and we were impressed.

We had to choose which team was likely to be the most successful, and that team was then given a £50 boost. The teams’ ideas were brilliant. We were able to advise them. For example, one team had secured a pitch in front of the big screen in the town centre. The team was really excited, but I asked what would happen if it rained, because the pitch was not properly covered. That was the sort of advice the teams needed before they started.

I also met people from Virgin Media Pioneers, a brilliant scheme that allows young people to upload videos asking questions and seeking advice from other young people taking their first tentative steps into business. The scheme is a wonderful resource. I took time to look at some of the videos and at some of the questions people were asking. Underneath, there were reams of comments and helpful suggestions. The person who asked the original question would come back and say, “Thank you. That’s what I’m going to try.” I am delighted that such things are there, because young people get technology.

On Monday, I met Miles Jacobson, the main guy at Sports Interactive. For those who are not computer geeks, like myself, I should explain that Sports Interactive creates Football Manager, which sells more than 1 million copies a year. We had a good, productive meeting, at which we talked about how easy it is in theory to get young people to start technology businesses creating apps and computer games. Miles Jacobson believes that, for as little as £10,000, people can have all the licences and equipment they need to get going. We are looking to embrace high-tech industries, and the one

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thing young people certainly understand are the mobile phones we all carry around and get confused by. I therefore encourage the Government to look at that issue.

In summary, I want to highlight my three key requests. I have met so many young people who are keen to be entrepreneurs, and they just need that extra bit of help. I welcome the provision of access to finance, but the single most important thing we can do is provide mentors and advice. Where there are opportunities such as those offered by the young enterprise scheme and the Scouts, they should be built on. These things are not simply fun exercises that can be put away and forgotten in the back of people’s minds. People who take part in such schemes should be told, “You’ve done really well. This is your No. 1 choice as a career path. You should think about it.”

I want the Government to do everything they can to accelerate the delivery of the business mentor programme, to encourage the organisations that take part in it, such as Virgin Media Pioneers, and to give young people the opportunity to access the programme. I also want Ministers to do all they can to encourage schools, colleges and universities to promote the opportunities offered by entrepreneurial schemes, which give young people real life experience.

Finally, I make a direct plea to the Minister. I want him annually to celebrate and highlight the best young entrepreneurs from across the country and to support the organisations that help them achieve what they do. In that way, we—the key decision makers in Parliament—will understand these issues, demand support for those involved and push entrepreneurism as hard as we can as a real career path for young people.

11.14 am

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Mark Prisk): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson). I was not quite as successful as he was in my wheeler-dealer days. At one point, I did corner the market in Curly Wurlys, but I should perhaps cast a veil over that. It was only a couple of years ago—actually, I am teasing.

What is exciting when we engage with young people is that we immediately see their sense of inspiration when they realise they can make money by understanding the people around them, by thinking laterally and by solving problems. Those are really important skills, whether or not they go on to become the next Sir Richard Branson. I really like the market idea that my hon. Friend highlighted. I would like to have a closer look at it with him, because I think it sounds like an exciting initiative that we will want to talk to market traders and others about. The Scouts initiative is great. I was aware that the Scouts were doing that. We should not assume that it is only college and university students who do these things; often, it is the youngest students who recognise that the moment they become their own boss is important.

Before I come to the question of young enterprise, however, let me go to what for me is the heart of the broader debate. Enterprise and entrepreneurship are vital to the economy, but they also have an important social message. “It doesn’t matter what your background is or where you went to school. If you have ability, ambition and the will to work, you can be your own

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boss and make your own fortune,” is a really powerful message, especially for the next generation. I applaud my hon. Friend’s work because in addition to what the Government are doing, all of us as Members of Parliament have a useful role to play in encouraging young people to see the range of opportunities before them. Even if people go into a salaried career for the first 20 years of their working life, many of them will still have those opportunities in the back of their mind. If they are shown what paths there are when they are young, their chances of progressing down them will be much greater. The number of start-ups in the UK is an encouraging sign: between 2003 and 2010, the number of business start-ups was static, but last year it jumped. I look at those numbers and see an encouraging shift in people’s ambition and aspiration to start their own business.

Alongside conventional economic reforms, we have tried to ensure that people have, as my hon. Friend said, the tools to turn their dream into a reality. We started by reforming all the business information the Government provide, putting it in a usable form and making sure it is where people want it, when they want it. We are looking to develop it in an app-based form, which is especially important for young people. We then looked to establish the principle of mentoring and money through the new enterprise allowance, mirroring what the Prince’s Trust has done in the past. That is important, because it will help unemployed people to become self-employed, creating up to 40,000 new businesses.

The broader question is how to get the advice right. I am absolutely committed to the principle of good business mentoring. That is why we have replaced the 1,600 state- paid business advisers with real business people: we have not even got to the end of the first year of the Mentor Me programme and 15,000 such people are already in place and helping many others to start businesses. We want to increase their number to 26,000 this year and, yes, we aim to get to 40,000, but I want make sure we get the quality right. I have that target in my mind, but I want to make sure that I do not race for 40,000 and get the quality wrong. That is an important issue. Mentoring is absolutely fundamental.

I want to focus on helping young people in particular. I will come to the enterprise loan for young people, but I cannot talk about start-ups and enterprise without briefly mentioning the importance of being able to access finance. That will never be easy following the 2008 crisis, but we have tried to think about it in the round. We are trying to improve debt finance and ease lending, which is what the enterprise finance guarantee and the national loan guarantee scheme are about, but we also need to think about the use of the tax system, and that is what the enterprise investment scheme is about. A key measure is the development of business angels, which to my mind are the logical next step for business mentors. If we nurture the community of mentors, we are more likely to generate more business angels, so alongside the mentoring programme, we are also putting in place the co-investment fund to expand the number of business angels, so that we get an underlying network to help people to start up.

What can we do and what are we doing to help young people to turn a bright idea into a real venture? Enterprise education has real benefits. My hon. Friend mentioned

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the young enterprise scheme; the evidence that it and other such programmes have produced shows that in almost every case when people engage in enterprise education, the proportion who actually start up a business doubles. However, there is an added benefit: even those who do not immediately go on to start up often demonstrate a greater appreciation of those skills and are better able to fulfil their career potential, so that they may go on to become successful in a salaried career. In other words, such education helps people to reassess what they are capable of and gives them the confidence to think in the round.

We have tried to foster enterprise education across the education system. Hon. Members have all said, “Let’s not just think about universities. Let’s think about schools, colleges and universities.” That is absolutely right, and that is why we are doing work in each of those areas. We want to enable most students, wherever they are in the education system, to learn about the opportunities and practicalities while they are still in learning. In schools we have established Enterprise Village, an online resource that has been up and running for the past few months, which aims to help teachers and students to start a business in the school. The Norwegians are good at that, and have established a principle of running a business in every school. We want to foster and encourage the same here. The importance of role models at local level was rightly mentioned, and alongside the Enterprise Village programme we have established Inspiring the Future, an army of 2,500 business champions or local entrepreneurs who fulfil an ambassadorial role in a formal sense, but, more important, provide inspiration. Those two elements are very important.

We have also thought about those who are struggling on the edge of the school system, and we were delighted to support the Premier League Enterprise Academy, a good programme that uses the draw of premier league clubs to get young people engaged in the process of entrepreneurship. We should not ignore a fact that I discovered by accident a few years ago, which is that many entrepreneurs struggled at school far more than the average student. Routinely, if I were to ask a group of entrepreneurs whether they had dyslexia or significant problems at school, about 40% would put up their hand. Whether that is because entrepreneurs are wired differently, or because the struggle at school made them entrepreneurial, I do not know. I do know that we need to think about that side of people’s learning alongside the conventional academic route.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon took us on a wonderful trek through his educational and entrepreneurial career, and he rightly highlighted his university experience. I am a few years older than he is, and when I was at university the clubs, societies and networks were not oriented towards business—and I was doing a vocational degree. I felt strongly that we needed significantly to expand opportunity during learning, regardless of the subject students were taking—so not going down the exclusive business school route, but saying, “I don’t care whether you are studying land management or classics: you have the opportunity to be part of an entrepreneurial network on campus.” While my party was in opposition, I came across the nascent National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs, which in government we have been able to turn into a formal charitable group. This year we will

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put more than £1 million into NACUE, to make sure that the number of entrepreneurial clubs goes up from 40 or 50 to 90 during this Parliament. That is important, because they are not just clubs: they are the focal point for setting up competitions and other entrepreneurial opportunities, and for bringing in the other things that universities can do, such as establishing incubators, which has rightly been highlighted. I have seen that for myself at the university of Hertfordshire, where a youngster in his first term started a photography business. He has a space there and is studying, learning and earning. That is a wonderful combination, and, my golly, he is a mature and capable young man.

We want to make sure that alongside such programmes we build other networks, because where entrepreneurship really flourishes is where people group together and then bring in people with the business finance. It may involve academics, who have an invention that they are not sure how to commercialise. That fusion—whether in silicon valley or, indeed, Boston—lets people really make things happen. That is why we have actively been supporting such programmes as StartUp Britain, involving people who are dynamic, engaged, and of the relevant age group. They see universities as a place in which to put their business, although they may be well past the university stage. What I think of as a sort of entrepreneurial ecosystem is bringing finance, invention and the entrepreneur together. That is where we find the best opportunity.

We also wanted with NACUE to think not just about our friends at universities, but about the many people at further education colleges. We should not ignore the fact that if we help young people to gain a trade or craft that is crucial to the economy and to their ability to earn, we need also to ensure they know how to be self-employed in those trades and crafts. That is why, partly at the behest of Doug Richard, who bent my ear on the subject, we have also given NACUE the task of rolling out entrepreneur clubs to about 160 campuses by the end of this Parliament, so that we will be dealing with schools, universities and colleges.

My hon. Friend mentioned finance, which is important. It is especially challenging for young people. When I was a mentor for the Prince’s Trust, I learned that the combination that we often see in the context of micro-loans—money and a little grey hair—is the mix that helps a business to succeed, especially over a two or three-year period. We wanted to get the infrastructure ready on college campuses and so on, and then think about the finance side, and that is why we announced in

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the Budget a £10 million programme, to which my hon. Friend alluded, to provide enterprise loans to 18 to 24-year-olds. In a sense that mirrors what is available in the market for other entrepreneurs, but it is an exciting concept because it will provide the means to take a nice idea that needs to be tested in the market through to a business plan, and then on to becoming a real business. I can tell the House that we will start the pilot next month, and this morning I had a meeting with many of the private sector partners who want to participate. I am particularly grateful to Lord Young, who has been leading on the matter and advising the Prime Minister and the Government. He has brought real enthusiasm and energy to the work.

On a broader point, my hon. Friend mentioned the need to engage lots of people, and I have always taken the view that the Government’s job is not to try to run all this. If we did try, we would do it badly. We want to create the environment in which a thousand flowers can indeed bloom in the entrepreneurial community. That is the nature of entrepreneurs. Some will fail, and some will not. Some will bloom and go to great heights, and others will nearly disappear but come back next year. That is fine. That is why, to celebrate entrepreneurship, we have taken the concept we inherited of the global entrepreneurship week—it started in this country and now encompasses more than 120 countries—and set the ambition of having an entrepreneurial week every week. I have got together all the different entrepreneurial partners in Young Enterprise and beyond to produce something that is more focused and that builds on the things that Young Enterprise, the Prince’s Trust and many others already do. That is what StartUp Britain is doing, in part, through the year-long calendar it has just launched, which shows people the fantastic array of events taking place in this country. We are the most entrepreneurial country in Europe, but I want us to be the most entrepreneurial country in the world. We have to make sure that we help young people in that process.

I am excited by the ideas that my hon. Friend suggested. In a way they reflect the broader activity that is going on in many of our constituencies. Entrepreneurship is a positive message for young people. Our job is to enable all students, whatever stage they are at in their school or university career, to get access to the right information, advice and networks, so that they can take their bright idea and turn it into a successful business for the future.

11.29 am

Sitting suspended.

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MOD Logistics (Bicester)

[Mr Dai Havard in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I am pleased to have secured this debate. I raised the issue last year when I asked the Prime Minister about a pair of £44 boots that MOD logistics at Bicester had shipped to Northern Ireland at a cost of nearly £800. That is not the only example of MOD Bicester’s excessive spending, excessive pricing and excessive commissioning that has come my way in the intervening months. The scale of management error is so large and so endemic that, to my eyes, it almost looks systematic. In a nutshell, we believe that the logistics operation is having its costs inflated in order to hive it off into the private sector. I also believe that MOD logistics is being fattened for that purpose.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The hon. Gentleman uses the word “we”. Unless he is becoming very royal, who does he mean when he says “we”? For whom is he speaking when he makes these attacks on my constituency?

Mr Llwyd: First, I am making attacks not on the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but on some people who might not be completely open in the way in which they deal with matters at MOD logistics at Bicester. Secondly, those who advise me are included in the “we”—I do not pretend to be of any royal stock. I hope that I have made my position clear. The hon. Gentleman knows that my argument is not with him or his constituents, but with the MOD logistics department, which is the whole purpose of this debate.

I believe that the officials responsible for this are perhaps positioning themselves to make a fortune out of it in due course; and that, to make that operation less apparent, misled the Minister, who has in turn, unintentionally, perhaps misled the Commons. I have evidence and a confession from the head of logistics, who said on Monday night that all the information that I had been asking for over the last six or eight months was available, but had been declared to the Minister to be unavailable. There was a repetition of the word “unfortunate” when he said that the Minister had been misled.

The same official told me that there are plans to restructure the department, which may be announced in the coming weeks, so the debate is timely. I did not ask for this debate to make any particular political point, nor do I want to embarrass the Minister, who I know is a man of integrity and who may well have been placed in the unhappy position of unintentionally misleading Parliament on one occasion at least. He did indeed correct himself in due course, which is what I would expect of him.

This is a debate about administrative propriety upon which all parties in this Chamber agree, about a specific exercise in holding the Government to account and about the spending of public money. It is also a debate that asks, “Does Parliament have any power to hold the Government to account? Does the Government have the necessary control over their civil service in this area,

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or are we all to be treated as nothing more than a nuisance by officials who spend £27 million a year of the public’s money?”

I suspect that what we have here may be a fraudulent operation. It needs urgent and perhaps unusual treatment by the Minister’s office. My suggestion is that the Minister appoints a small team of two or three who will be given access for 48 hours to the TMS—transport management system—computer system that records the logistics operation and who will then report to him in due course. They should be the Minister’s own team, because there are some in senior management positions who are perhaps not worthy of complete trust. Information has been concealed, withheld and manipulated. Those people now have no incentive to do anything else. Most important, there is a proposal for further restructuring

“to bring together the component parts of the logistics organisation into site-based groups.”

That sounds like a return to the structure before the last restructuring. There is also a rumour of a management buy-out. The idea that the same management who created this mare’s nest can then profit from it will cause revulsion in anyone not directly benefiting from it.

Before I lay out a summary of the case, I ask the Minister for assurances that the people, however senior, who have supplied me with information will not suffer from proceedings by their managers or from other parts of the MOD hierarchy. I have no doubt that the Minister will respond to that in due course.

Military logistics planning is usually conducted in acronyms and the language of consultants. For the convenience of the House, I will present the case in layman’s terms. Ministry of Defence logistics is the term used for transporting equipment for the Army, Navy and Air Force round Britain and overseas. The main southern distribution hubs from which supplies originate are Bicester and, secondarily, Donnington. Bicester stores and sends equipment to our forces nationwide and worldwide, via RAF Brize Norton or Heathrow. It was from Bicester that the equipment for Iraq was delivered, for example. The main day-to-day task in peace time is resupply: Bicester transports everything from ship engines and heavy machinery to documents, toilet paper, body armour and ration packs and, yes, the famous boots going to Northern Ireland. There are flight steps from the Falklands, equipment, kit, documents, jiffy bags and pallets—all are ferried round the UK and round the world largely from the two centres.

Let me describe succinctly the operational structure before and after the restructuring—how it was done then and how it is done now. Before restructuring, supplies were transported out from Bicester in one of three classes of vehicle: a Luton van size; a removal truck size and a standard articulated lorry—a 44-tonne truck. Those vehicles carried supplies from Bicester to one of the regional centres around the country, from where supplies were sent on in smaller vehicles to their final destination. It is the hub system by which all major transport companies, such as FedEx, United Parcel Service and the Royal Mail, work. There is a universal logic to the system: the large trucks carry larger quantities of goods longer distances more cheaply, and the smaller vehicles conclude the delivery with a short local journey.

That conventional model was abandoned in 2008 and a new system was put in place. The managing director of Bicester was at that time, and is now, Steve Brannigan. He decided to close these regional distribution centres,

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to reduce the fleet and number of drivers, and to make up the shortfall in in-house capacity by greater use of private hauliers, contractors and couriers—generically called third party logistics, or 3PL for short. As a result of that new structure, it was said, the cost of the regional distribution centres—nearly £4 million a year—was saved. In a letter dated 28 July 2011, the Minister describes those as “net savings”, but my understanding is that that is very far from the truth. Again, I stress that I do not impugn the hon. Gentleman’s veracity over any action that he has taken. The crucial figure has been concealed and withheld.

What is the total sum paid to private transport? That figure is not yet forthcoming. We are told the total budget for transport, but not the total budget for private transport, and I believe that it is much higher than has been reported by senior people. The restructuring of the system reduced the number of in-house trucks and drivers and contracted their replacements from outside the Department. The idea behind the restructuring was to outsource much of the driving work and make efficiencies by competitive tendering. Palletways, the trucking firm, now does much of the work that the MOD used to do itself. Thus Bicester sends four or five articulated trucks carrying the supplies that it needs to have delivered to the Palletways centre in Staffordshire. Palletways then does the job that Bicester used to do in precisely the same way that Bicester used to do it, by sending the supplies out to its own regional distribution centres.

It is said that contracting out has a good reputation in management circles. The use of private contractors promises greater flexibility, lower overheads and more competitive tendering. Paid staff are not idle when there is no work. Contractors are assumed to have a commercial incentive to work harder than employees as their position is less secure. That is the theory. Often it works, but it does not translate into good practice automatically.

Has the restructuring of Bicester MOD logistics been a success? Has the evaluation process worked? The results should be apparent in the accounts, including the total operating sum spent on logistics before restructuring and the total operating sum afterwards. Those figures have been held very close by the Bicester MOD logistics management. In fact, they refuse to reveal them. Why is that? I believe that it is because the total cost of private transport makes a nonsense of the outsourcing, that total third party logistics costs show that no savings have been made, and that the restructuring has actually resulted in net losses.

It is easy to see how private contractors would struggle to match in-house costs: private sector drivers have a higher cost per hour than public sector drivers; there is the cost of operating licences and there is VAT on agency driver fees. Compare that with the defence infrastructure of bases and personnel, which can be used intelligently at low, or even no, marginal cost. There is also the need to transport MOD supplies to the main contractor’s depot 75 miles away from Bicester.

Those factors prompt questions that need to be answered. Did the restructuring work? Have the new arrangements saved money? Were the highly paid consultants who devised the new system worth their fee? The fact is we do not know whether the business operation has been analysed to show whether it works better or not. The figures have been arranged to show a financial benefit

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from the new structure. Real-time reports from the computer system, as well as common sense, present a very different picture.

The Minister will remember the question that started this process off last year; it was about the famous pair of boots that were transported from Bicester to Northern Ireland at a cost of almost £800. At that point, we were trying to establish the ongoing costs of the restructuring and we asked what those costs were. However, the costs of couriers were left out of the answer, when they are about a third of the total. The Minister said:

“I have been categorically assured about the omission of the courier costs.”

He also said that the error was

“a result of human error rather than any intent to mislead”.

That is what the Minister said.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Peter Luff): If I had let an inaccurate answer lie on the record, I would have been criticised. It was a genuine clerical error—a mistake. There is no conspiracy behind those figures at all. It was an error that we corrected as soon as we became aware of it. In my experience, it has happened two or three times. It was an error—no conspiracy.

Mr Llwyd: As I have already said, I do not have any real argument with the Minister about this matter, and I accept what he says. However, we are told that there was “a formatting error.” I must remind the House that the MOD is responsible for transporting nuclear missiles around the country and that “a formatting error” could have incalculable consequences.

The Minister has been assured that there was an “error” and I accept what he says. In addition to the “formatting error”, however, the bill for private contractors is not merely the bill for Palletways, private couriers and agency drivers from Pertemps. I know that there are as many as 25 private trucks a day coming in and out of Bicester MOD that are not Palletways trucks or trucks used by private couriers—25 trucks a day that have not appeared in any explanations or admissions.

As I have already said, the Minister has been told that there were £4 million of net savings from the closure of regional distribution centres. The figures given by Logistic Commodities and Services Bicester show that £7,535,000 was spent on private contractors, private drivers and private couriers in 2008-09, and in 2009-10 £6,305,000 was spent on private transporters. That is a palpable reduction, but those figures do not include the cost of private hauliers—those 25 trucks a day. Where do the costs incurred by those private hauliers appear? They include Hacklings, Metcalfe Farms Haulage, Kenyons, Newsomes, Reason Transport, Andover Transport—the list goes on. Who is paying for those trucks? Out of what budget are they paid? There is some “find the lady” trick going on here, or some accounting sleight of hand to hide the costs of between 6,000 and 10,000 trips a year. Where are those hidden journeys accounted for? Who has paid for them, and how much? What does it do to the net saving figure claimed by officials? These questions must be answered.

I tabled a series of parliamentary questions asking for basic management information. I was trying to determine whether the restructuring has been a success.

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I asked the pertinent questions about how many miles were driven, the number of trips that were made, the hours that were taken, the class of vehicle driven and the cost per mile. I was told that the information was not held centrally and was not available, except at disproportionate cost. That is not true. The Minister was also told that the information was not available, but he was misled. The information is available within half a dozen keystrokes on the TMS computer system, assuming it has not been deleted—I have evidence of deletions from the central computer, so I do not dismiss that possibility. The TMS system records every journey, every driver and every distance. All the information is there within half a dozen keystrokes and we would hope that it is there. Otherwise how could the Department know what it was actually spending and what it was doing?

I had believed that the information was readily available, centrally held and available at almost no cost—and so it was admitted to me by Neil Firth, the head of logistics, on Monday. He repeated that it was “unfortunate” that the information was not provided. First, it was a “formatting error”; then it was “unfortunate”; and next it will be “the dog ate it”. The Minister and Parliament are being taken for a ride. That is not “unfortunate”; it has put a Government Minister in the position of misleading Parliament. In my experience, that is a very serious matter. Again, I stress that I am not impugning the Minister.

I have other examples of that type of activity. People can see courier vans lined up on the A34 outside MOD Bicester in the dead of night waiting for a job to be called. They pick up, they drive to their destination before 6 am, the unit is shut and the courier drives back to Bicester with the parcel, saying that it was undeliverable. Then the courier gets to deliver it again in daylight hours. That means one job, two charges. It happens all the time. Couriers pick up at night and deliver before the depot is open. There are days, weeks and years of it. Every Christmas and every Easter, deliveries are sent out and returned on the first day of the holiday. They come back marked, “Unable to deliver”, as the unit is “closed for the holiday”, so the courier tries to deliver it the next day, and the next day, and the day after that. “Closed for the holiday”, “Closed for the holiday”—one job, three charges, every year.

There are many other examples of couriers being contracted at £100, £125 or £150 to take small parcels here and there, even though MOD trucks are going to the exact same destination at the exact same time—that, too, was admitted to me on Monday. It is suggested that half a trailer of failed deliveries comes back every night from Palletways to Bicester, to be redispatched and recharged again and again. We have seen examples of MOD trucks and drivers standing idle while commercial trucks and drivers are paid to do the work that could be done in-house.

I understand that the MOD units can pitch for MOD jobs, but they have to quote using a kerbside price for fuel, which is around £1.45 a litre. For the same job, Eddie Stobart can quote using his bulk price in Belgium of 80p a litre. Who made that decision? Why is the MOD systematically instructed to price itself out of

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competition with the private sector? I believe that the costs are being increased superficially and drastically, and that the goose is being fattened.

The Minister is categorically assured, and so assures the House, that there have been net savings of £4 million, but the evidence is not available, apparently, except at a disproportionate cost. I believe that there have not been net savings, but that the same people who carried out the disastrous restructuring are quietly trying to conceal their errors in another one. I repeat: it is also possible that the costs are being allowed to escalate through daily inefficiencies, to make a management buy-out seem like a good idea and demonstrate palpable savings. This might be straying into other forms of liability, but it is possible that the management are tolerating, and in some cases promoting, such inefficiency and cost inflation in order to buy out the business and make a fortune from it.

It is in the interests of good government, in the interests of the public and in the interests of accountability and transparency that a fast, urgent investigation is undertaken, perhaps with two or three investigators, with a report prepared for the Minister. If there is to be another restructuring, it is essential that it is done properly and openly, and in a way that permits challenge and scrutiny, especially in these days when cuts are being made in every service and the armed forces are at full stretch. I hope that this debate will put things right. I feel sure that the Minister will investigate the matter thoroughly and urgently, because nothing else will do.

2.51 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), like me, is a lawyer, and his speech was long on assertion and short on evidence. Indeed, it seemed more appropriate for the inside back pages of Private Eye than as a sensible contribution to Hansard and parliamentary debate.

It might be convenient for the House to know that I have represented Bicester for nearly 30 years—some three decades. During that time, the logistics depot has gone through a number of names, so for convenience I shall refer to it as the Bicester depot.

The Bicester depot has working at and within it a number of trade unions: Unite—previously the Transport and General Workers Union—and the Public and Commercial Services Union, or PCS. Over the years, I have developed a practical working relationship with them, and I stress that because they are clearly not necessarily political friends of mine. The convenor of the Whitley council at Bicester and of the International Telecommunication Union, Les Sibley, has been my Labour opponent at the past three general elections, and the hon. Gentleman can rest assured that if either Unite or PCS thought that something untoward was happening at Bicester, they would be shouting it from the rooftops.

I wonder why an hon. Gentleman from a Welsh constituency is seeking to investigate, by assertion, what is happening in a military depot in Bicester. The hon. Gentleman did not answer when I asked him who the “we” was who had been advising him. The answer probably lies in the first lines of the Library briefing for the debate. The first newspaper article in the briefing, from the Oxford Mail, has the headline, “Bicester can be ‘heart of MOD’”, and continues:

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“Bicester’s MP has called for the Ministry of Defence to consolidate its UK logistic operations in Bicester.”

I am pleased that the hon. Member for the Wrekin is here because I would not want to make these comments without him being present.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): It is Telford.

Tony Baldry: I apologise: the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright). At the moment, there are a number of logistic centres for the Ministry of Defence, including one at Donnington. It is no secret that the Ministry has for some time been considering whether Donnington, Ashchurch and other logistic bases should be consolidated, and it is no secret that my submission to Ministers has always been that if one is to consolidate defence logistics, the logical place—the only place—to do so is at Bicester. Bicester is in the heart of the country, near Brize Norton, which is now the major air gateway, and the M40. The east-west rail link is being developed, which will connect Southampton to Felixstowe. Given all that and the Bicester’s internal railway connections, it is the ideal location in which to consolidate defence logistics. That is not just my view; it is that of the trade unions at Bicester.

Richard Kelsall, who represents the PCS, says:

“Over many years and many in-depth studies it has been concluded that Bicester is the only site that can fulfil the MOD’s strategic aims; meeting its customers’ needs whilst safeguarding the Public purse.”

I hope that the Front-Bench spokesperson, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) will listen to this with care. Les Sibley who, as I said, has been the Labour parliamentary candidate for three successive general elections and is a former mayor of Bicester, a current district and town councillor and a former county councillor, says:

“The pivotal role that MOD Bicester has played throughout its long history in its provision and delivery of services to the Armed Fortes worldwide over many decades is well documented.

The MOD is a large organisation and by the very nature of its role, it is inevitable that sometimes mistakes happen because we are not infallible and as such we rectify any mistakes as quickly as is humanly possible.

We have built an enviable reputation of expertise over time, and this expertise is still readily available to the MOD for future Logistics and Distribution purposes. Therefore, the most logical way forward is that these attributes can be offered to the MoD by the loyal and long serving civil service workforce whenever called upon. By utilising these skills together with the centralised location of MOD Bicester offers a winning formula for future excellence of delivery to the Armed Forces when considering any future operational requirements.”

I fully recognise that Members of Parliament who represent Donnington, Ashchurch or other locations and depots will have different arguments. I accept that, but in the context of this debate my point is that the House can be assured that if the trade unions at Bicester felt that something was systemically wrong with how the depot was being run they would be making it clear, not just to me but to Labour Front-Bench colleagues—people such as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), who used to be assistant general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union and visited Bicester regularly during that time. I am quite sure that if the trade unions felt that something

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was going systemically wrong at Bicester they would have made it clear to leading members of the Labour party and to the Labour Front-Bench team.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): I am the MP for Telford. Donnington falls within the constituency of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), but is about 150 yards from the boundary of mine, and many of my constituents work at what I will call the depot at Donnington, mirroring what the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) calls the depot at Bicester. Clearly, he is making a pitch for Bicester, but I argue that Donnington is an ideal location for the work.

It is important that the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) has secured this debate. I am interested in the fact that, if further changes are made to how logistics operate in this country, they must be considered on a level playing field. If we are to make decisions about the future location of logistics work, we must use information that is even and level across the sites and easily understandable. We must be able to compare sites properly. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that will be done.

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): Order. Before the hon. Gentleman responds, I remind hon. Members that interventions should be short.

Tony Baldry: I do not think that the Minister or any of us would disagree with that. The point that I am making is that the hon. Gentleman who introduced this debate did so on the basis that systemic failures and abuses of practice were occurring at Bicester. My response is that he has not produced any evidence. Further, if there were any such evidence, I assure him that that it would have been drawn to the attention of management, politicians, the House and me by the trade unions and that it would have been investigated.

I understand, of course, that in the run-up to ministerial decisions about the future of defence logistics, there are some around the country who will have an interest in rubbishing Bicester, but I am sorry that it has been done in such a way. I will come to what I think would have been the correct way to deal with the matter.

Mr Llwyd: It is no part of my function to rubbish Bicester. I came across something that looked doubtful, and I raised it appropriately. Let us be fair: the hon. Gentleman was with me when I met the head of logistics. When I put the accusations to him, he said, “That may well have happened, yes; we’re not perfect,” and so on. They are not groundless. By the way, I am a Privy Counsellor.

Tony Baldry: I apologise if I did not refer to the right hon. Gentleman as such. He should not be quite so touchy. What Neil Firth said at that meeting was, as everyone would concede, that thousands of items go out from Bicester each day, and errors are always possible, particularly as priority is set not by Bicester but by the requesting unit.

A little while ago, a constituent of mine, who left Bicester shortly afterwards on voluntary agreement, made allegations not dissimilar to those made by the right hon. Gentleman, relating to boots and one or two other items. He did not assert that there were systemic

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failures at Bicester, but he thought that occasionally, boots and other things were made more costly than necessary. I immediately took up the matter with Ministers in the Ministry of Defence, and the Minister for the Armed Forces, the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) responded. In fairness, in response to my letter, a full investigation was carried out at Bicester. The Minister for the Armed Forces said, perfectly fairly:

“Every day, consignments and routes are developed to ensure that freight carriage is optimised and the use of commercial hauliers balanced against in-house resources. Of course, from time to time, routing errors do occur, but this must be placed in context. On a daily basis the JSCS”,

joint support chain services,

“handles between 8,000 and 10,000 transactions, of which the large majority are delivered on time and in the most cost-effective way. Indeed, the costs of transport have been reduced by £10 million in the past two years against 2008 operating costs and the level of service improved from a success rate of 80% of transactions completed on time based on 10 working days to a success rate of 95% based on seven working days.”

Suggestions were made about agency staff. The Minister for the Armed Forces said:

“Of course there are occasions when agency staff will be required to supplement existing staff resources, for example to respond to increases in demand and to meet operational needs. In such cases, existing MOD-wide commercial arrangements are used which ensure that agency staff are employed at the most cost-effective rate.”

He went on to conclude:

“JSCS is an operational organisation that exists to meet the often urgent requirements of the armed forces. The organisation, therefore, has to balance these demands against achieving value for money for the taxpayer. The 2009-10 annual report and accounts clearly demonstrate that operating costs are now 28% less than they were six years ago, but that service delivery has significantly improved.”

I suspect that if every public service could show a 28% improvement over six years, we would all be grateful.

There are two issues in respect of Bicester that I should like the Minister to hear. First, I genuinely believe that defence logistics should be consolidated at Bicester, for the reasons that I have said. I also suspect that, as part of that, the private sector will increasingly need to be involved, as it is currently involved, not least when investing in new logistics sheds, warehousing and equipment at Bicester. However, age is an issue. Bicester’s existing work force are loyal and have worked there for a long time, and being civil servants is an important part of their lives. I hope that if changes are made at Bicester, transitional changes will be possible whereby those with civil service status can retain it if new private sector investors and partners start to work more with the MOD on logistics handling, support and delivery. I am sure that that is possible.

I invite the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd to come to Bicester. He is welcome to visit, and to come with me to meet the trade unions of Bicester, so that he can put his allegations and assertions to them and the work force at first hand. I think that he would be interested in their detailed response, but he would also see the huge land footprint at Bicester. It has a lot of surplus space that is not being used as effectively as it might be. I have no idea why, in the first world war, such a huge area of land was taken for those purposes at

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Bicester. The rumour is that it was to resist zeppelin attacks. That is a matter of history, but we have an enormous amount of space; we are at the heart of the country; and we have excellent rail and road connections.

Rather than an investigation into unfounded allegations about what is said to have gone wrong at Bicester, it would be more helpful to have a review of how to get the maximum potential for the country out of the Bicester estate, both for the defence industries and in terms of releasing surplus land for other commercial and residential use. The potential is considerable.

I do not think that the assertions made by the right hon. Gentleman have any substance. There is no smoking gun. In an operation as large as that at Bicester, things will occasionally go wrong, but I suspect that other logistics operations such as DHL, the Post Office and Amazon are not always perfect. I do not think that the percentage of error is greater in defence logistics than in any other major logistics operation.

To conclude, I return to the first line of the Library briefing for the debate:

“Bicester’s MP has called for the Ministry of Defence to consolidate its UK logistic operations in Bicester.”

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): I call Alison Seabeck. Are you right hon?

3.9 pm

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): No, certainly not. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard.

The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) has raised issues that give serious cause for concern, and I will listen carefully to the Minister’s response. Many of his allegations are entirely new, and his written questions have obviously started the ball rolling.

The reform of the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency at Bicester and in other parts of the country, including Plymouth, has not been straightforward. Problems have arisen along the way, and the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) alluded to some of them.

From meetings and correspondence I had with the MOD and trade unions in my constituency, I know there were concerns at the time about how the new set-up would operate and—this relates particularly to the weapons operating centre at Plymouth—about the care taken over the management and movement of explosives. In Plymouth, genuine concerns were raised about how the new, more centralised logistics arrangements and the transport of explosives—perhaps by less experienced operatives—would operate and about what safety procedures would be put in place. There were also concerns about stock levels and value for money.

The unions in Plymouth worked not only to inform those involved in the decision-making process of where they saw weaknesses, but to protect their members. Locally, they highlighted areas where efficiency could be improved and waste could be prevented. As the hon. Gentleman made clear, the unions worked with the changes to make sure there was no waste.

Under the Government’s proposals, there is the potential for further changes at Bicester. The debate revolves around the competition introduced under the previous

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Government and the introduction of couriers through the outsourcing of transportation. There is also the issue of the apparent mismanagement at Bicester, which the right hon. Gentleman suggested could be on an industrial scale and with the purpose of fattening up the organisation for a sell-off to the private sector.

Clearly, what has happened must be urgently reviewed given the seriousness of what has been said, and particularly given that the Government will want to be able to take their logistics commodities transformation programme forward as planned. Failure to answer some of the questions that have been raised could lead to uncertainty about the plans for the Bicester site.

One such question is just how open the discussion of the options has been. Will the Bicester distribution centre be revamped and become much larger? Could it disappear altogether and become a housing estate? Such questions have been, and are indeed being, asked, and they lead to insecurity and uncertainty for those still employed at Bicester. Are there other options, perhaps including Donnington or Marchwood, which my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) mentioned?

David Wright: The key point is that the presentation of the data leads people to take strategic decisions, so we must make sure that the data the MOD presents on Bicester, Donnington and other sites are comparable.

Alison Seabeck: My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I will come back to later.

The Government must be concerned that other factors, such as the drop in land values, are not helping their decision making, and nor is the fact that parts of the Bicester site are contaminated. Such factors have contributed to the MOD’s apparently defensive mindset over the future of the site and the work that goes on there. However, there appears to be much more behind such concerns, as we have heard today.

As the hon. Member for Banbury made clear, we need evidence, so transparency is hugely important. We need transparency in the relationship between the civil service and Ministers. Obviously, there are constraints regarding commercially sensitive material, and there are wider security concerns. However, one or more whistleblowers have come forward, and the right hon. Gentleman has asked written questions.

Tony Baldry: The “whistleblowers” do not come from Bicester; indeed, they would not need to be whistleblowers. I can assure the hon. Lady that if those working at Bicester thought there was a concern, they would be on the telephone to her, as fellow members of the Labour party, explaining that something was wrong.

Alison Seabeck: The hon. Gentleman has a fair point: if such people were trade union members, they might well have come to members of the Labour party. However, I do not know who has spoken to the right hon. Gentleman, and I assume the hon. Gentleman does not know either. I am talking generally about people who feel they have seen something in their workplace that is inappropriate or that constitutes extreme waste. Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman, from his perspective, has not had adequate answers to the written questions he tabled. This process started more than a year ago, and these

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issues were highlighted a year ago, so why do some of these things appear to have been pushed under the carpet?

Peter Luff indicated dissent .

Alison Seabeck: The Minister shakes his head.

Peter Luff: Obviously, I will check what the right hon. Gentleman said, but I think he did not get the statistics he asked for because they went back to 2005, and we did not have them. I think that will be the reason, but I will check. However, I reject the claim that there was any lack of transparency.

Alison Seabeck: The Minister is a decent man, and I take his response absolutely at face value. However, it would be helpful if he could check. No one takes becoming a whistleblower lightly, so if somebody felt strongly enough to become one, it is important that their allegations are fully investigated.

In written answers to the right hon. Gentleman over the past year, the Minister has indicated that savings had been achieved or were expected to be achieved at MOD Bicester. However, as we have heard, the right hon. Gentleman feels that those figures are inaccurate, and they are being seriously questioned. Indeed, inefficiencies such as Government trucks turning up at the same time as outsourced vehicles cannot be right, and I ask the Minister what monitoring is, or could be, undertaken to check on such things so that we can take action if there are, in fact, discrepancies.

How much duplication has there been? Have costs been inflated? Those are perfectly reasonable questions, and they deserve an answer. I assume the Minister is confident of the veracity of the information he has received. We need to have confidence in the data we are given. When Ministers make decisions—this reinforces the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Telford—the data they base them on should be factually correct.

My next question is slightly tangential. Has there been any Cabinet Office involvement in this matter, given that it concerns civil servants and data? There is a Cabinet Office responsibility in there somewhere, particularly if a civil servant is involved in whistleblowing. As I say, that is a small point, but I would be interested to know the answer.

There is an issue here that transcends Governments; it was a problem for the Labour Government, and it is clearly an ongoing problem for the current Government. Waste and cost overruns happen, but Ministers—of whatever party—have a duty to the public, as well as to those they work with, to ensure that we understand how they happen.

The Government’s role as a client is also important, and there is the issue of how goods and services are procured. The Minister knows better than most that he is working towards a procurement strategy. I hope—I am sure the Chief of Defence Matériel wants this, too—that there will be a degree of openness and transparency to ensure that value-for-money benchmarks, which look attractive at first sight, actually deliver the savings the Government want further down the line.