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April 2012 Monthly Archives

Nick Hurd visits Orchard Grove

April 30, 2012

Orchard Grove

Nick Hurd tours Linden Homes’ Orchard Grove development with Linden Homes’ Chiltern MD Darren Maddox.

Nick Hurd responds to debate on public services

April 25, 2012

Nick Hurd responds to a back bench MP’s debate on outsourcing and the commissioning of public services.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) on securing the debate and on how he presented his case. I believe that he worked in the NHS before going into politics. I read his profile, which says that his political mission is to push Labour leftwards, so he must be delighted with the direction of travel. It is clear where he is coming from and I have a certain respect for that, even though I come from a different place politically.

Our constituencies may be different, but I suspect that all our constituents share a desire to see Government deliver better value for the tax that they pay. This Government take that seriously.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Hurd: Perhaps I can just advance my argument a little.

This is not the place to have a great debate about the economic situation or the level of debt that the Government have inherited, but we are serious about trying to deliver better value for taxpayers’ money. I am a Minister in the Cabinet Office. The controls that we have put in place—that my boss, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General has put in place—delivered some £3.75 billion in the first year of Government and are on track to deliver £5 billion of savings this year. We are quite proud of that. Frankly, it was an exercise in delivering common sense. It is an appalling indictment of the attitude of the previous Administration to public money that such big savings could be found in such short order by doing some basic commonsensical things.

Ian Lavery: Does the Minister agree, in respect of looking for better value, that paying doctors, nurses and porters in his constituency more than those in my constituency is a good way of saving money?

Mr Hurd: I want doctors and nurses to be paid at fair value. I am also interested in the value that they offer to the taxpayer for the work that they do, which brings me on to my next point about public services and how they are commissioned.

The Government’s view is that, when expectations about public service standards are rising, we need to find more creative solutions. There is dissatisfaction and a challenge, because there is less money about and therefore greater pressure to get better outcomes with less money.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) made an important point: the direction of travel here is not driven by ideology, although there is more ideology communicated from the Opposition than the Government. This is driven by a desire to deliver better outcomes on behalf of the taxpayer and the people we are trying to help in a way that is much more transparent than before.

Ian Mearns: The Minister belabours the point about making additional efficiencies within government since the coalition came to power. Of course, one of the biggest elements of public expenditure is local government. Conservative control in local government has been at a high watermark for eight or nine years now. Would he criticise Conservative councils in that respect?

Mr Hurd: I resist any invitation to criticise Conservative councils, particularly at this moment. My point is about attitudes to taxpayers’ money. The previous Administration were cavalier with taxpayers’ money and this Administration are trying to deliver better

Gloria De Piero: The Minister might not want to speak about Conservative councils, but I live in Nottinghamshire where the Conservative council has just used taxpayers’ money to develop a new logo on all the buildings. Is that good value for taxpayers?

Mr Hurd: I do not know because I do not know the situation in Nottingham. That is an issue on which the people of Nottingham can take a view and they will be able to express that view more clearly and more loudly because we are moving towards a world in which there is more transparency about local authorities’ spending. We are moving away from the opaque world in which we had very little information about what was being done in our name.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): I share the Minister’s concern about value for money, although I am also concerned about protecting the most vulnerable and about the standard of public services and the intelligence of targets that are used in outsourcing. Will he respond to the point that was powerfully put by my hon. Friend about the evidence base behind this? Where is the evidence that outsourcing provides better value for money?

Mr Hurd: I am delighted to move on to the substance of the debate. I have tried my best to respond to various interventions from the Opposition Benches. The hon. Member for Easington referred to the open public services. [Interruption.] With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am trying to answer the meat of his argument, which is whether it is good to create a situation in which those buying on behalf of the taxpayer have choice about where they buy services on our behalf. The hon. Gentleman is actually arguing for no choice and for protection of the status quo. The Government’s open public services White Paper makes it clear—we expect a political argument about this—that we want to switch the default setting away from in-house delivery to commissioning services from a diverse range of providers where that would improve services or reduce costs.

The hon. Gentleman made it clear that he was hostile to the for-profits sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock made a valuable point that the Government are agnostic about who delivers the service. We are particularly keen—and it is a coalition Government commitment—to make it easier for charities and social enterprises to participate in public services. They are not driven by a profit motive. By definition, they are driven by a desire to deliver a better outcome for the people that they support and care about.

Jackie Doyle-Price: The hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) referred to academies in his speech. Perhaps I should remind my hon. Friend about the Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry into academies, which showed that they delivered not only better outcomes for the taxpayer but better value for money. Is that not a perfect example of how changing provision and getting away from uniform provision delivers better outcomes?

Mr Hurd: Yes, I absolutely agree. I also agree with what my hon. Friend said when the hon. Member for Easington kept saying, “Where’s the evidence?” There is plenty of evidence for the value of competition—if we need it, because we know it in our daily lives. Academic research suggests that competitively tendering public services typically produces savings of between 10% and 30% while maintaining or improving standards. I refer the hon. Member for Easington to the “Public Services Industry Review” of July 2008 by Dr DeAnne Julius, but there is no shortage of evidence for the value of tendering and introducing competition into the system.

Dr Julius also talked about the payment-by-results regime, which the Opposition do not like at all, although the situation we inherited was that those buying on our behalf were extraordinarily complacent about whether we got anything for the money. Such a regime is not appropriate in every case, but we are moving towards a requirement for commissioners—those buying on our behalf—to think much harder about what they are buying and the outcomes against which they will be measured in a new transparent world where there will be nowhere to hide. Yes, we will introduce payment by results where that is appropriate, because it introduces some basic, common-sense discipline into how we spend taxpayers’ money. For most of my constituents, that makes plain common sense—after all, it is their money.

Finally, we are also keen to encourage the development of mutuals, employee ownership and organisations in which employees are in charge. One such model in which ownership is shared between employees, Government and private sector partners is the innovative pathfinder mutual joint venture, My Civil Service Pension, which provides pension administration for civil servants. Likewise, I go around the country and meet some of the mutual spin-outs from the NHS, where the hon. Gentleman used to work, and the difference when one walks through the door into those organisations is tangible.

Our programme of reform is focused on the citizen and is already cutting out unnecessary cost to help protect front-line priorities. Outsourcing remains an interesting option and one that will offer the best deal in many situations, but it is not the only one, and we are judging every case on its merits.

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