State of the Estate: 2022-23

Alex Burghart Excerpts
Friday 19th April 2024

(3 days, 3 hours ago)

Written Statements
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Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
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I have today laid before Parliament, pursuant to section 86 of the Climate Change Act 2008, the “State of the Estate in 2022-23”. This report describes the progress made on improving the efficiency and sustainability of the central Government estate and, where relevant, records the progress that Government have made since the previous year. The report is published on an annual basis, and this year highlights the following progress.

Government reduced their overall greenhouse gas emissions by 39%, compared to the 2017-18 baseline, with reductions in energy consumption saving the Government an estimated £163 million compared to the 2017-18 baseline.

Government as a whole reduced total waste by 16% from the 2017-18 baseline, exceeding the 15% target. In total, 5% of Departmental waste was sent to landfill, which therefore met the target of 5% maximum.

The Government Property Agency Government hubs have continued to grow in number during 2022-23, with the opening of Peterborough, Quay House, which brings together departments into this shared location, making more efficient use of space. Sixteen hubs are now in operation, with a combined floorspace of about 330,000 square metres, located in all four nations of the United Kingdom, providing a network of shared modern workspaces for the UK civil service.

Through the places for growth commitment, by March 2023, 12,075 roles had been relocated outside of London (this increased to 18,283 by 31 December 2023). This exceeds the programme’s interim 2025 milestone set out in the levelling-up White Paper of relocating 15,000 roles by 2025.

We are also seeing significant savings being achieved, demonstrating our commitment to running the UK estate in as efficient a manner as possible. We have disposed of no-longer-needed properties worth more than £1 billion, returning that money to the taxpayer to be reinvested.

Across Government and the wider public sector, services are delivering real improvements through more imaginative and integrated estate design, and through encouraging co-location and more efficient use of space. By 2030, Government property will have significantly contributed to economic growth, and supported improving the quality of public services, while at the same time helping to transform places and communities.

[HCWS419]

Cabinet Office

Alex Burghart Excerpts
Thursday 18th April 2024

(4 days, 3 hours ago)

Written Corrections
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The following extract is from the debate on Scrutiny of Secretaries of State in the House of Lords on 20 March 2024.
Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Obviously the Government are considering the very good and serious report into this situation from the Procedure Committee. It is not an anomalous situation—it has arisen before—but it is right that we should consider it in a modern light. In the meantime, while we are waiting for the Government’s full consideration, there are a number of ways in which the Foreign Secretary is being held to account by Parliament as a whole. In the House of Lords, he answered questions on 21 November, 5 December, 15 January, 16 January, 13 February, 12 March and 15 March.

[Official Report, 20 March 2024; Vol. 747, c. 1025.]

Written correction submitted by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart):

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Obviously the Government are considering the very good and serious report into this situation from the Procedure Committee. It is not an anomalous situation—it has arisen before—but it is right that we should consider it in a modern light. In the meantime, while we are waiting for the Government’s full consideration, there are a number of ways in which the Foreign Secretary is being held to account by Parliament as a whole. In the House of Lords, he answered questions on 21 November, 5 December, 15 January, 16 January, 13 February, 5 March and 12 March.

Access to Redress Schemes

Alex Burghart Excerpts
Thursday 18th April 2024

(4 days, 3 hours ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
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It is a pleasure to respond to a thoughtful debate in which we have heard some very good speeches. Hon. Members have had the opportunity to display the considerable expertise that they have built up, often while dealing with difficult constituency casework. It is a reminder to us all that we are here to serve the needs of our constituents and to help them find redress when hardship, difficulties and, sometimes, the system get in their way.

It was a pleasure to hear experienced Members of the House harking back to the glorious days when we had a full working Thursday. I share their desire for that—and not just because we would have had more people in attendance for this debate. It was particularly good to hear the considered speech of right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), in which he savagely attacked lawyers. I look forward to the leader of his party reading and considering his remarks.

We are here to debate the details that have been raised thanks to the diligent efforts of the all-party parliamentary group in writing to the Government with its thoughts about how we might make general improvements. The Government firmly believe that access to redress is fundamental in upholding justice and fairness in our society. It is imperative that individuals have avenues to seek recourse when they have been wronged or harmed. In recognition of that, the schemes through which the Government provide redress are numerous.

The Government have done more than most in the past few years to address historical wrongs. In 2017, the infected blood inquiry was set up, and in October 2022 interim payments of £100,000 were made to everyone in the UK infected blood support schemes. The Windrush programme was set up in 2019, the Horizon shortfall scheme in 2020, the overturned convictions scheme and the LGBT veterans scheme in 2021, and the group litigation order compensation scheme in 2023. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General set out our next steps in supporting the victims of the infected blood scandal.

The Government have been steadfast in our commitment to providing diverse compensation schemes that cater to varying needs and circumstances. We remain committed to upholding the rule of law and ensuring that all citizens have access to effective mechanisms for resolving grievances and holding institutions accountable. There is, rightly, considerable interest across the House in how we can ensure best practice. I am grateful to be able to engage with some of those ideas today.

Although I acknowledge the interesting ideas mooted by the APPG, I think we should sound a note of caution. We must be wary of any approach that would set up a uniform system for redress and compensation. Each set of circumstances is often very different, and schemes need to be capable of reflecting those differences in order to ensure that the affected individuals get the best possible redress. Any reform process would need to ensure that we do not lose personal understanding of the claimants who are accessing the scheme, and that we provide adequate support and understanding of their personal experiences. I urge hon. Members to keep claimants at the centre of our thinking during consideration of any reforms—that has been at the heart of what hon. Members have said in the debate.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones
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I do not disagree with the Minister— I agree that victims should be at the centre, and that no two schemes will ever be perfectly the same—but there are broad frameworks. What tends to happen—it certainly did with the Horizon scheme—is that people try to reinvent the thing every time. Surely we could put in place some parameters that civil servants could use as a template when faced with a future compensation scheme.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I was going to come to that point. Although the right hon. Gentleman is right that there is currently no public guidance, that does not limit the sharing of knowledge between Departments and policy areas. There is a great deal of dialogue and shared learning between officials when schemes come into existence. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) suggested in his opening remarks that the wheel was always being reinvented. That is not the case; a learning process happens within Government.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord
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I do not suppose that lessons are not being learned and that one set of civil servants is not passing lessons on to another set; rather, this is about victims having the reassurance that when there is a perceived conflict of interest, they have somewhere else to go.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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The point I was making was very much that we have internal schemes of learning, and we ensure that each new scheme learns from the experiences of those that have gone before it.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I will give way one more time to the right hon. Gentleman, but I am running out of time.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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That is not my experience. When we were setting up the advisory board for the Horizon compensation scheme, I asked officials to look at the mineworkers’ compensation scheme, which was a massive scheme. The problem is that, with the turnover of civil servants, corporate knowledge is lost. We need corporate knowledge to be held centrally in Departments—possibly in the Cabinet Office; otherwise, things left to Departments do not happen because people leave.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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The right hon. Gentleman is right: the Government require a means of retaining corporate knowledge. That is something that I have been working on since I came to the Cabinet Office 18 months ago. I will not go into it now, but we are putting in place a number of novel programmes to ensure that, as people move on, we retain their learning—not just with regard to redress schemes, but more broadly across Government. He is right about that. Although there is a richness in having civil servants who have worked in many different Departments and have a broad understanding of how Government works, there is sometimes a danger that, in having that rotation, we lose expert knowledge.

I will move on to some of the progress that has been made on the major schemes that the Government have under way. In respect of the Horizon IT scandal, let me reassure the House that the Government are determined for postmasters to receive the compensation that they deserve. As of 31 March this year, approximately £190 million had been paid to over 2,800 claimants across three schemes: £111 million on the Horizon shortfall scheme; £39 million for all payments, including interim payments, on the group litigation order scheme; and a total of £41 million for all payments, including further interim payments, on the overturned convictions scheme. With regard to the Windrush scandal, as of February this year the Home Office had paid over £83 million across 2,307 claims. On infected blood, as I mentioned earlier, the Government have paid over £400 million in interim compensation to those infected, and bereaved partners, registered with existing support schemes since 2022.

Let me turn to the specific points made by other contributors. Alas, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) ascribes to me a greater power than I possess: I am unable today to respond formally to the Cumberlege review, but he will be aware that the Government are in the midst of very serious consideration of its findings and recommendations, and I know that he will hold our feet to the fire to ensure that that formal response comes soon. To go back one more time to the right hon. Member for North Durham, I am grateful for his acknowledgment of the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). His comments about lawyers aside, I very much agree that we need schemes that reduce the opportunities for legal opportunism—we owe that to our tax-paying constituents, and also to those who have been wronged.

The Government understand that there are broad lessons to be learned from schemes that have gone on in the past, but also from the four big schemes that are currently under way. It will also be necessary for us to consider the response of the National Audit Office to the letter written earlier this year by the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier), so that we can better understand how we can build on the good work that has already been done to help our constituents when similar wrongs befall them in future.

Acting Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

Alex Burghart Excerpts
Monday 25th March 2024

(4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

At the outset, I would like to pay tribute to the outgoing ombudsman, Rob Behrens CBE, who steps down at the end of this month after serving the statutory maximum term of seven years. I would like to thank him for the great work he has done to transform the PHSO. For example, he has improved complaint handling, established an independent expert advisory panel to inform decision making, and set up Europe’s first ombudsman academy to build capability. He has also introduced new ways of working, including mediation in casework. On this House’s behalf, I praise Rob for his achievements and wish him all the very best for the future.

The campaign to recruit a new ombudsman commenced at the beginning of October 2023. The House-appointed recruitment panel made a recommendation to the Prime Minister in January, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) said a few moments ago. This is an important and high-profile role, so it is very important that the process takes as long as is necessary to appoint the right person. Until then, and to ensure continuity for the PHSO, it is necessary to appoint an acting commissioner. Mr Behrens had reached the end of the statutory maximum term of seven years, so it is necessary for us to have an acting commissioner before a final appointment is made.

The Government very much support Rebecca Hilsenrath’s appointment to this role, as we believe she has the ability and experience to lead the PHSO until a new ombudsman is appointed. She joined the PHSO as director of external affairs, strategy and communications in 2021, and she was appointed its chief executive officer in July 2023.

William Wragg Portrait Mr Wragg
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The question for my hon. Friend is: will the Prime Minister sign off on the name that was put to him by the recruitment panel in January?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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That will be a matter for the Prime Minister. As my hon. Friend will have heard me say a few moments ago, it is very important that this process is followed thoroughly and diligently to make sure that the correct appointment is made.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I also want to put on the record my thanks to Mr Rob Behrens, not least for the way he supported one of my constituents. However, my concern is that the Minister and the Prime Minister have had plenty of time to review the appointment. By putting an interim person in place, there will be disruption when a new person comes into place. Does the Minister not also recognise that there is much work to be done in reducing the number of complaints and addressing the real needs of our constituents, who need redress for the serious issues they are raising?

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right that this is an extremely important role. That is why, in looking for a temporary head, we have chosen someone with an enormous amount of experience within the ombudsman itself. There will be no disruption; there will be great continuity. She points to the amount of time it is taking to sign off the role. While I appreciate that she would like to have it now, looking back, the appointment of Mr Behrens seven years ago took almost a year, so it is not unusual for appointments to take more than a couple of months. With that said, in accordance with section 3A of the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 and paragraph 2 of schedule 1 to the Health Service Commissioners Act 1993, I commend Rebecca Hilsenrath to the House for the role of acting commissioner.

Question put and agreed to.

Deputy Speakers

Ordered,

That, further to the Orders of 30 January, 23 February and 26 October 2023, paragraphs (1) and (2) of the Order of 19 December 2022 relating to the appointment of Sir Roger Gale as Deputy Speaker and to the exercise of the functions of the Chairman of Ways and Means shall continue to have effect up to and including 23 July 2024.—(Penny Mordaunt.)

Westminister Hall: Sitting Times

Ordered,

(1) That, with effect from 15 April, the following amendment to Standing Orders be made:

In Standing Order No. 10 (Sittings in Westminster Hall), paragraph (1)(c), leave out “1.30 pm” and insert “12.30 pm”.

(2) That this amendment shall have effect for the remainder of this Parliament.—(Penny Mordaunt.)

Scrutiny of Secretaries of State in the House of Lords

Alex Burghart Excerpts
Wednesday 20th March 2024

(1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) on bringing forward what is a genuinely interesting and surprisingly well-attended Adjournment debate. I think it is the best-attended Adjournment debate I have taken for some time. Were I in mischievous mood, I would gently refer him to the answers that I gave him on 18 November, 29 February and 12 March and resume my place, but alas mischief eludes me and I will give him as full an answer as I can.

Obviously the Government are considering the very good and serious report into this situation from the Procedure Committee. It is not an anomalous situation—it has arisen before—but it is right that we should consider it in a modern light. In the meantime, while we are waiting for the Government’s full consideration, there are a number of ways in which the Foreign Secretary is being held to account by Parliament as a whole. In the House of Lords, he answered questions on 21 November, 5 December, 15 January, 16 January, 13 February, 12 March and 15 March.

I know that the House of Lords is not a place where the Scottish National party goes to play. As the hon. Gentleman knows, because we have debated this on a number of occasions, I think that is a great shame. I understand that the party’s plans and vision to break up the kingdom failed—with the support of the Scottish people, I am pleased to say. After that juncture, SNP Members would have done well to accept that that was a once-in-a-generation vote and that they were plausibly going to be here for some time if people continued to elect SNP Members to this House. It would therefore have been wise of them to stick a few people in the upper House so that the views of their party and that part of the electorate could be represented in that part of Parliament. They chose not to. Consequently they are now unable to question the Foreign Secretary when he stands to answer questions in the Lords, but that is their prerogative.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister will know that our constituents’ voices will not be heard in the other place, and that it is us who are elected to bring those voices forward. On 17 October, the Foreign Secretary at the time invited all Members of this House over to the Foreign Office to ask questions. Could the Minister explain why the Foreign Secretary has not made himself available, even in an informal way off the record, so that Members of Parliament from the House of Commons can scrutinise him over his decision making?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady will have an opportunity to ask that question of the Foreign Secretary’s colleagues when they next come to the House. I cannot answer the particulars because they pertain to the Foreign Office.

In the meantime, there will be opportunities to ask questions of the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). Although it is true that he is not the Foreign Secretary, he is in the Cabinet and is bound by collective agreement. He sits in discussions at the highest level on all matters relating to foreign affairs, and he has answered questions in this House on 14 November, 21 November, 27 November, 7 December, 11 December, 12 December, 19 December, 8 January, 10 January, 24 January, 26 January, 29 January, 30 January, 21 February, 27 February, 28 February, 12 March and 19 March. Members of this House have had opportunities to ask questions of him—a man who sits in Cabinet and who knows the Foreign Secretary’s mind. I am sure he will be very grateful to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow North about his workload, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend is a very capable individual, as the hon. Member for Rochdale (George Galloway) said, and workload is not a problem from which he suffers.

While we await the Government’s response to the report, it is possible for Members to write to the Foreign Secretary. I know that the hon. Member for Glasgow North has written to him once and, having done so, I assume that he asked all the questions he would like to ask. If he has not, he is welcome to write a second letter.

There is a broader point that I raised with my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) when I was before the Procedure Committee, which is that there is an historical dimension that works with the grain of what the Committee is saying. This issue first arose, as you will probably know from your history lessons, Madam Deputy Speaker, in 1674, when the Commons chose to summon two peers, the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Arlington, to answer questions—the Duke of Buckingham because he was considered to be lascivious, wicked and scandalous in his lifestyle, and the Earl of Arlington because he favoured papists. They were admonished by the Commons and sent on their way.

The response of the Lords was to point out that their House, too, had privileges, and that it is not within the power of the Commons to forcibly summon Members of the House of Lords to the Bar of the House. The Lords passed a Standing Order that said that Members of the House of Lords could not be summoned here.

However, it was still clear that Members of the House of Lords could be invited, and there have been a number of instances in which Members of the House of Lords have been invited to this House and have answered questions. In 1779, the Earl of Balcarres and Earl Cornwallis were brought here to answer questions about the Army’s conduct during the American revolution. In 1805, Lord Melville came to this House at his own request, having been impeached—he asked that the House gave him an audience. Lord Teignmouth was questioned twice about Indian affairs in 1806 and 1813. More famously, the Duke of Wellington came to give an account of the peninsula war in 1814. I raise these points because we are all aware that there have been moments in not-so-recent history when commoners have come to the Bar. The last was in 1957, when Mr Junor was summoned over an issue in the press.

My point is that if the Commons wants to, it is capable of inviting a Member of the Lords to come to answer questions here. To a certain extent, history places the solution at the disposal of the hon. Member for Glasgow North: the Commons could invite the Foreign Secretary now to come to the Bar of the House to answer questions. However, I appreciate the hon. Gentleman is looking for something more routine, and for that I am afraid he will have to wait until the Government respond to the report.

In conclusion, it is right that we have this debate; it is important that there is scrutiny of the Government and of the Cabinet, and that is what this Government seek to provide.

Question put and agreed to.

Security and Intelligence Agencies: Contingencies Fund Advance

Alex Burghart Excerpts
Thursday 7th March 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Written Statements
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Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
- Hansard - -

The Minister of State, Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG, has today made the following statement:

The security and intelligence agencies have presented a supplementary estimate for approval to Parliament in the central Government supply estimates booklet (HC 500, published on 27 February). Full details can be found on www.gov.uk. As it will be some time before the associated legislation receives Royal Assent, the agencies are seeking an advance from the Contingencies Fund in order to meet contractual commitments.

Parliamentary approval for additional resource of £5,295,000, capital of £96,261,000 and cash movement of £66,444,000 has been sought in a supplementary estimate for the security and intelligence agencies. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £168,000,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

As the security and intelligence agencies are non-ministerial Departments, I am making this statement on behalf of their accounting officer to ensure that Parliament is informed of this advance from the Contingencies Fund.

[HCWS316]

Transforming for a Digital Future: Progress Update

Alex Burghart Excerpts
Thursday 29th February 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Written Statements
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Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
- Hansard - -

In June 2022, the Government published “Transforming for a digital future: 2022 to 2025 roadmap for digital and data”. This set an ambitious plan that by 2025, we will deliver a transformed, more efficient digital Government that provides better services for the people of the United Kingdom.



In September 2023, I published an update to the road map to ensure we are keeping pace with emerging trends, challenges and opportunities.

At the request of the Public Accounts Committee, I am now updating Parliament on progress made against the road map including progress made by individual departments. Key recent achievements include:

16 of the top 75 services have so far reached great, well on the way to our target of 50

29 Government services are now live with gov.uk One Login and over 3.3 million people have so far proven their identity through the new system

The Government digital and data profession has grown from 4% to 5.4% of total civil service headcount, close to our target of 6%, bringing in the key skills we need

The generative AI framework for Government has been published, to provide detailed guidance, resources and tools for the safe and secure usage of generative AI

There is much work still to be done, but I remain confident that under this Government’s plan we are on course to meet the commitments set out in the road map by 2025.

We will be depositing a full copy of “Transforming for a Digital Future: Government’s 2022 to 25 roadmap for digital and data, February 2024 progress update” in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS299]

Oral Answers to Questions

Alex Burghart Excerpts
Thursday 29th February 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

12. What steps his Department is taking to improve access to public sector procurement processes for small and medium-sized businesses.

Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The landmark Procurement Act 2023, which this Government passed last year, will deliver simpler and more effective public sector procurement and help small and medium-sized enterprises across the country secure a greater share of that expenditure, which totals approximately £300 billion every year. The Act includes a new duty on contracting authorities to have regard for the particular barriers faced by SMEs and consider what can be done to overcome them.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. There are 5.5 million of them in the UK, making up over 99% of all businesses and 61% of private sector employment. However, currently only a fraction of 1% offer their goods and services to the public sector. Could the Minister say a little more about the work that is being done to encourage more of them to enter tender processes?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I would be delighted to, because the Government are entirely committed to ensuring that SMEs get a bigger share of that pie. The latest published SME spend figures show that UK small businesses received £21 billion of work, which was an increase of £1.7 billion on the previous year’s figures. That is the highest since records began, and the fifth consecutive year that Government work won by small businesses has increased. Crucially, that is before the effects of the Procurement Act kick in.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As my hon. Friend has said in his reply, the Procurement Act is I hope the solution to many of these problems, but it is not due to come into force until the beginning of October. Can he confirm that it will definitely come into force then, and that the necessary secondary legislation is in hand?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am pleased to be able to report that, despite the fact that this is complex legislation that requires workstreams in a number of areas—not just secondary legislation, but learning and development for those working for contracting authorities, and a new online platform that will make procurement much easier and better for both those supplying services and those procuring them—we are on track to meet our targets.

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Sarah Edwards Portrait Sarah Edwards (Tamworth) (Lab)
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15. What recent estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of procurement fraud during the covid-19 pandemic.

Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The Government’s “Cross-Government Fraud Landscape Annual Report 2022” includes data from the first year of the Government’s response to the pandemic. The report suggests that in 2020-21, Government Departments and arm’s length bodies reported a total of £124.6 million of detected procurement fraud. The same report showed that at the end of March 2021, some £88.2 million of fraud and error had been recovered within covid-19 schemes. Since then, crucially, further funds have been recovered and the Government will continue to update the House as fresh data becomes available.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

When people think back to the sacrifices they made during the pandemic, the greed associated with the personal protective equipment scandal really jars with them, so will the Minister commit to following the Labour party’s lead and appoint a covid corruption commissioner to chase down and claw back every penny of taxpayers’ money that was wasted?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

This Government take PPE fraud extremely seriously. To remind the House of the figures, 1.8% of expenditure on PPE was lost to fraud at a time when there was the most extraordinary public crisis in several generations and we were competing in an extremely overheated international market. To date, we have recovered more than a quarter of that 1.8% and the fight to recover more continues. PPE procurement is subject to ongoing contract management controls, active dispute resolution and recovery action. The law is on our side and we are using it.

Sarah Edwards Portrait Sarah Edwards
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The covid procurement scandal upset many people, and rightly so. I spoke with a fantastic local business in Tamworth, Wearwell (UK), which was manufacturing PPE as part of the regional procurement but was cut out of the process during the pandemic. The UK must be prepared in the event of another pandemic, and British manufacturing offers a greater response time and a more stable supply chain. When will we return to regional procurement to ensure that local businesses are prioritised when providing PPE for the nation?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I welcome the hon. Lady to what I think are her first Cabinet Office questions. She is right to draw attention to the fantastic textile manufacturing that exists in the region in which her constituency sits. She will have heard me talk about the Procurement Act 2023, which was passed last year and will make sure that small and medium-sized enterprises, which by their nature are often local enterprises, will have a bigger share of public procurement.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Minister.

Jonathan Ashworth Portrait Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have not just had the infamous Baroness Mone scandal; at the time, there were reports of a hedge fund in Mauritius that got a £250 million contract for face masks that could not be used and a jeweller in Florida that got a multimillion-pound contract for gowns that could not be used. The Government had to incinerate billions of pounds-worth of faulty personal protective equipment. That is taxpayers’ money literally going up in smoke. In the pandemic the then Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), told me at the Dispatch Box

“where a contract is not delivered against, we do not intend to pay taxpayers’ money”.—[Official Report, 23 February 2021; Vol. 689, c. 758.]

But taxpayers’ money was spent, wasn’t it? Why was that promise not met?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I gently refer the right hon. Gentleman to the answer I just gave. The fact is that, although problems arose with PPE procurement in this uniquely difficult environment in which officials were working unbelievably hard for the public good, PPE procurement is still subject to ongoing contract management controls, active dispute resolution and recovery action. The fact of the matter is that this Government took it seriously during the pandemic. The Department of Health and Social Care realised the risk of fraud early on, and the Government established a counter-fraud team to counter that threat. We are using all the legal tools at our disposal to get taxpayers’ money back. The House should be in no doubt that the Government’s speed of action during the crisis enabled many lives to be saved and for the country to overcome the covid-19 crisis.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

14. What steps he is taking to support veterans with the cost of living.

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Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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18. If he will undertake a review of the effectiveness of gov.uk for the public and businesses.

Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Gov.uk is among the UK’s most recognised and trusted digital services. It is constantly monitored to assure and improve the service it provides to its users through data analytics, user research and feedback, while the latest gov.uk strategy prioritises proactively reaching more people in more places.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Government processes need to work if our democratic system is to have the trust of our constituents. We know that many people who use Government IT systems to manage their tax payments, national insurance credits or benefits experience errors in how their accounts of money are handled, which is unacceptable. Will the Minister accept that a cross-departmental review of how those IT systems work needs to be carried out so that constituents can trust that the Government are not losing their hard-earned money?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I am pleased to tell the hon. Lady that polling at the end of last year found that 76% of respondents were satisfied with gov.uk, 78% agreed that they could typically find what they wanted and 74% trusted the information they found. Obviously, we keep all our systems under review, but gov.uk is a trusted brand and it is getting better every day.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
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19. What recent discussions he has had with the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests on trends in the level of compliance with the ministerial code.

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Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower)  (Lab)
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T5.   Given that Ministers are piloting the use of artificial intelligence in Departments to answer parliamentary questions, which Ministers will the Secretary of State wish to replace first?

Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
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Until this moment I had not thought of drawing up a list, but as the hon. Lady will have heard us say on a number of occasions, artificial intelligence provides a remarkable opportunity to create supplementary capacity and capability for the civil service and the Government. I have been very pleased to pilot a new programme called “red box”, devised by a fantastic young crack AI team, which summarises long documents and makes the work of my private office easier. However, it is enhancing capability, not replacing it.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge)  (Lab)
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T6. The Minister talked earlier about protecting our borders. I am sure he will know that Dover Port Health Authority has seized worrying amounts of contaminated meat over the last few months, but in just the last few days, we have learned that the Government are withdrawing the funds that make it possible for the authority to do that. Why are the Government ignoring the advice of experienced public health officials?

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Damien Moore Portrait Damien Moore (Southport) (Con)
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May I ask my hon. Friend what work is being done to ensure that the Government give value for money for the taxpayer when it comes to the Government estate?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I am pleased to say that one of our major Government functions, the Government Property Agency, is constantly looking at how we can refresh the Government estate to make sure not just that our offices are fit for purpose and are wonderful working spaces for our excellent civil servants, but that we are not hanging on to outdated buildings that are expensive to run. We are very mindful of achieving value for money in this area.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Interim payments are, by their very nature, interim; they are paid before final payments. Perhaps the Minister might be able to help me to understand. He just said that works are going on at pace, so when will the interim payments, recommended by Sir Brian Langstaff in April 2023, to parents who lost children and children who lost parents be paid before the final payments are made?

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Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
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Why do this Government think it is right that Church of England bishops in the House of Lords can have greater say on legislation affecting Scotland than the Scottish Parliament, and when will there ever be meaningful reform to the bloated House of Lords?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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As the hon. Gentleman will have heard me say in a Westminster Hall debate not so long ago, it remains a great pity that the SNP refuses to play in the House of Lords. The fact is that the people of Scotland rejected the idea of an independent Scotland some time ago, and it would have been to the benefit of his constituents and others around Scotland if his party had had the good sense to ask for people to be put in the upper House.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Lab)
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On the contaminated blood scandal, why have the Government not named the experts?

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
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We know that the Cabinet Office is often focused on making sure that procurement contracts go to small and medium-sized enterprises, but can my hon. Friend tell me what work is being done to make sure that female-led businesses get a chance at those contracts?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I think my right hon. Friend is referring to social value, which is obviously an important part of our procurement regime. Social value was discussed extensively during the passage of the Procurement Act 2023, and contracting authorities in local areas must pay regard to it.

UK Integrated Security Fund 2024-25

Alex Burghart Excerpts
Monday 26th February 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Written Statements
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Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
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The Minister of State, Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG, has today made the following statement:

I wish to update the House on the launch of the UK integrated security fund (ISF) announced in the integrated review refresh (IRR) by the Prime Minister on 12 March 2023. The integrated security fund (ISF) will succeed the existing conflict, stability and security fund (CSSF) in April 2024.

The ISF is a cross-Government fund developed to tackle the highest-priority threats to UK national security at home and overseas. The ISF will use official development assistance (ODA) and non-ODA funding to enable the delivery of National Security Council priorities. It will take an integrated, agile, catalytic, and high-risk approach to find solutions to the most complex national security challenges outlined in the IRR 2023.

Through integrating domestic and overseas national security programming, it will aim to have real-world strategic impact, bring value for taxpayers’ money, and demonstrate UK innovation.

The ISF will build on the important work supported by the CSSF. New areas of ISF programming will reflect the priorities set out in the IRR and will add additional priorities, including maritime security, economic sanctions and emerging and disruptive technology such as AI and quantum computing. The ISF has allocated almost £1 billion for FY 2024-25, bringing some existing economic deterrence and cyber programmes into the single fund. In FY 2022-23, the CSSF invested £830 million as set out in the CSSF annual report FY 2022-23.

The report demonstrates how CSSF programmes have delivered clear results. In the Lake Chad Basin region in West Africa, data collection, analysis and co-ordination between the military and police improved the response to the threat from improvised explosive devices to local communities. Violent extremist groups operating globally pose a threat to the UK and to our allies. To counter the increase in the threat of Turkish-manufactured converted blank-firing weapons on UK streets, CSSF programmes invested in capacity building and advice, resulting in changes to firearms legislation in Turkey. This resulted in a drop in the sales of blank firearms in Turkey and a decrease in imports of blank firearms into the UK.

These examples highlight the fund’s tangible contribution to enhance UK national security through integrated programmes across 12 Government Departments and agencies, with a presence in over 90 countries and territories.

[HCWS291]

Covid-19 Inquiry Response: Costs

Alex Burghart Excerpts
Monday 19th February 2024

(2 months ago)

Written Statements
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Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
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The Minister of State, Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG, on 9 February 2024, made the following statement:

Throughout the pandemic, the Government acted to save lives and livelihoods, prevent the NHS being overwhelmed, and deliver a world-leading vaccine rollout which protected the nation. In establishing the UK covid-19 inquiry, the Government recognised the unprecedented and wholly exceptional circumstances of the pandemic, and the importance of examining as rigorously as possible the actions the state took in response, in order to learn lessons for the future.

As such, the inquiry is unprecedented in its scope, complexity and profile, looking at recent events that have profoundly impacted everyone’s lives.

Following the publication by the covid-19 inquiry of its costs for Quarter 3 of the 2023-24 financial year on 5 February 2024, I would like to update Parliament on the UK Government costs associated with responding to the UK covid-19 inquiry.

The figures provided below include input from a number of Government Departments, including the Cabinet Office, the Department for Health and Social Care, the UK Health Security Agency, the Home Office and HM Treasury, many of which are supported by the Government Legal Department (GLD).

The figures we are publishing reflect those that the inquiry publishes—legal counsel and solicitors costs, and secretariat staff costs. The figures are based upon a sample of departmental costs, and are not a precise figure for accounting purposes and are therefore subject to change. While every effort has been made to ensure a robust methodology, complexities remain in trying to quantify the time and costs dedicated to the inquiry alone.

Total inquiry response unit legal costs (April-December 2023).

Inquiry response units across Government Departments are supported by the Government Legal Department, co-partnering firms of solicitors, and counsel. Associated legal costs—excluding internal departmental advisory legal costs—for April-December 2023 are below.

Total legal costs: £20,900,000

Breakdown of staff and costs (April-December 2023).

The Government’s response to the UK covid-19 Inquiry is led by Inquiry Response Units across Departments.

Number of UK covid-19 Inquiry Response Unit staff: 249 Full Time Equivalents (as of Q3).

Cost of Inquiry Response Unit staff: £12,900,000

It should be noted that alongside full time resource within Departments, inquiry response teams draw on expertise from across their organisations. The Senior Civil Servant staff costs associated with appearing as witnesses, preparing witnesses and associated policy development work on the Covid inquiry are significant. Early estimations place these at least £120,000 for Cabinet Office for preparatory work for Modules 1 and 2, but further work is under way to produce a more accurate figure. Those costs are not included in the figures above.

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