December 14, 2011
Nick Hurd answers questions from back bench MPs on Big Society Capital, supporting the voluntary sector and the National Citizens Service.
Big Society Capital
Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): What recent progress he has made in establishing Big Society Capital.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): Big Society Capital is all about trying to make it easier for social entrepreneurs to access capital. We think that we are making good progress, moving swiftly through the Financial Services Authority authorisation and EU state-aid approval processes, and we are confident that Big Society Capital will be open for business by spring. In the meantime, the interim investment committee, which made its first investment in July, will announce its next investment shortly.
Richard Fuller: I thank the Minister for his answer. My focus is on the voluntary organisations whose budgets are always tight, so will he advise me on how he can enhance their capacity to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by Big Society Capital?
Mr Hurd: My hon. Friend knows from his lengthy experience in the area that we have fantastic social entrepreneurs in this country, and we want to make it easier for them to access capital, but, as he points out, some of them need more help to become more investment-ready. That is exactly why we have set up a £10 million investment and contract readiness fund—to provide grants for organisations that want to attract investment but know they need more help to become more investment-ready.
Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): Among the Public Administration Committee’s many criticisms in its report today, it rightly highlights that Ministers cannot expect the big society bank to provide the solution to the funding crisis that their cuts are causing for hundreds of charities. Given that the report goes on effectively to accuse Ministers of being out of touch and not providing effective leadership to tackle the problems that charities face, would not now be the perfect time for yet another one of the Prime Minister’s big society re-launches?
Mr Hurd: I am not going to take any lectures on leadership and Big Society Capital from the Opposition, because they talked for 10 years about setting it up but did not actually do it. We are doing it because we want to make it easier for social entrepreneurs to access capital. It is on track, and we are very proud of it.
Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): What steps he is taking to support the voluntary sector.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): We are supporting the sector through this difficult time by cutting red tape, investing in transition funds for infrastructure and front-line organisations, creating significant new opportunities for the sector to deliver public services, and supporting new initiatives to encourage giving and social investment.
Julie Hilling: The Roots project in Westhoughton in my constituency has been praised by the Government as a beacon of the big society, but Liz Douglas, the founder, has had no wages for six months. Words are no good. When will the Minister take action to support the voluntary and community sector?
Mr Hurd: The hon. Lady knows that we have taken a great deal of action, not least by putting in place a £107 million transition fund to help the most vulnerable organisations. If she is talking about cuts being made locally by Bolton council, she will know that the reduction in its spending this year was only 7%. The questions that she has to ask Bolton council are: “Why were you so badly prepared for this situation?” and: “Why did you block a proposal from Conservative councillors to create a fund to support local voluntary organisations?”
Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): The national citizens service is an excellent initiative to help young people to develop the skills and attitudes that they need in order to become responsible citizens. Can the Minister tell me what local branches of the service will be available to them in my constituency?
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): I will write to all Members shortly to tell them which providers of the service are operating in their local authority areas, but I can confirm that providers will be working in Cheshire East and in Cheshire West and Chester next year. I strongly encourage all Members to become involved with this programme, which provides a fantastic opportunity for young people.
December 13, 2011
Nick Hurd endorses the nomination of Andrew Dilnot CBE as Chair of the United Kingdom Statistics Authority and pays tribute to the current chair, Sir Michael Scholar.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): I beg to move,
That this House endorses the nomination of Andrew Dilnot CBE for appointment as Chair of the United Kingdom Statistics Authority.
The motion is in my name and that of other Ministers. All Members will know that this appointment is a very important one. Without reliable and independent statistics it is impossible for the Government to make good policy, or for Parliament, the public and the media to hold us to account. The quality of statistics in the UK is recognised to be very high, and all Members will agree that it is essential that we maintain that position.
The UK Statistics Authority is at the heart of the system for maintaining the quality and credibility of official statistics. The Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 established the authority to provide independent oversight of the statistical system. Therefore, the credibility of the chair is central to the whole operation of statistics in the UK.
Before moving to the specific candidate whom the Government have proposed for the post, I should like to acknowledge two very important contributions. First, the current chair, Sir Michael Scholar, has done outstanding work in establishing the authority as a credible and effective body, and I should like the House to record our thanks to him, not just for the work he has done since 2008, but for staying in post until the Government secured his replacement. I am sure other Members would like to place on record their thanks and appreciation of his good work.
Secondly, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) and the Select Committee on Public Administration under his chairmanship for their constructive engagement in the whole appointment process. In particular, I welcome the contribution that the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) was able to make as part of the panel that selected Andrew Dilnot.
Two particular qualities are essential for the chair of the UK Statistics Authority: independence and a passion for statistics. The Government believe that Andrew Dilnot is superbly qualified in both respects. First, on independence, Mr Dilnot has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to independent analysis and a willingness to stand up for his views. Members on both sides of the House—to varying degrees, I suspect—will have appreciated, and been challenged by, the sharp but fair analysis that the Institute for Fiscal Studies published under his leadership of Budgets produced by Governments of all parties.
More recently, Mr Dilnot chaired the independent commission on long-term care, which tackled, as I am sure all hon. Members agree, one of the most important and intractable policy problems that we face with great rigour. I am sure he will display the same qualities if appointed to this new role. Although that might on occasion lead to discomfort among my ministerial colleagues, I hope that Members agree that Parliament and Government are best served by a credible, senior and independent advocate of the proper use of statistics.
Secondly, on Mr Dilnot’s passion for statistics, he is an acknowledged leader in the field of statistics and, frankly, is second to none in that regard. He is the author of what his biography assures me is a best-selling book about statistics, and was the founding presenter of BBC Radio 4’s series on statistics, “More or Less”. He is currently chair of the statistics users forum of the Royal Statistical Society, and has held a range of academic and advisory positions that require a detailed understanding of statistics and their use and misuse. In short, it is hard to imagine a better qualified candidate.
To sum up, it is essential that we appoint a new chair for the UK Statistics Authority who can continue to develop it as an effective guardian of good statistics. We believe that Andrew Dilnot is an excellent candidate. I welcome the report from the Public Administration Committee on his pre-appointment hearing, and its conclusion that he should be appointed. I therefore commend the appointment to the House.
December 9, 2011
Following a recent meeting with residents of Harefield, Nick Hurd wrote to Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, to invite her to visit the village to see for herself impact of the proposed viaduct on the environment.
| Letter to Justine Greening