HC Deb 17 June 2004 vol 422 cc904-5
9. Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con)

What discussions he has had with Sir Peter Gershon regarding the total savings in departmental expenditure in the Department of Trade and Industry as a result of his efficiency review. [179130]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng)

The efficiency review features in regular discussions involving Treasury Ministers, their Department of Trade and Industry counterparts and Sir Peter Gershon, in order to maximise the benefits of the review for front-line services.

Mr. Cameron

Now that the DTI no longer runs car companies, coal mines, power stations, steel mills or any other major businesses, will the Chief Secretary explain why it still needs seven Ministers, with seven private offices? Apart from providing a perk for some of the Chancellor's acolytes, what does it actually do?

Mr. Boateng

Those Ministers do a very great deal. They have responsibility for energy policy and for promoting competition and enterprise. Importantly, too, they have responsibility for the Small Business Service, which helps some 600,000 small and medium-sized businesses—even some, I suspect, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and certainly some in his county.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab)

I welcome the Government's commitment to robust public sector efficiency reforms, but it has given Opposition Members an opportunity to launch a general attack on civil servants. Civil servants are not to be associated with waste and inefficiency, and it is not good merely to laud front-line public servants and thereby attack back-office staff. Will my right hon. Friend give the assurance that whatever cuts are made, a mechanism will be in place to ensure that service quality is maintained?

Mr. Boateng

Service quality and support for front-line workers are at the heart of our approach to the efficiency agenda. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has already paid tribute to the work and dedication of our public servants, and I am happy to do so again. We should compare and contrast that with the approach of the shadow Chief Secretary, the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight), whose calumnies against public servants, suggesting that they are there to do as little as possible, are legendary. We support front-line services and the contribution that civil servants make to the delivery of those services, while believing that there are real efficiency gains that we are determined to obtain from the system.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD)

Given the amount of money that Department of Trade and Industry Ministers, rather than civil servants, waste, would not it be better to scrap the Department and make savings that could be used for front-line public services?

Mr. Boateng

No it would not—and I have found no support for that proposal from any section of industry. There is certainly no support for it from the Confederation of British Industry or the Trades Union Congress. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry does a superb job in promoting British business, productivity and employment. She and the Department should be congratulated on that.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)

The efficiency savings are partly to achieve the Lyons review total of 20,000 civil servants to be shifted out of the capital. Are we still on track for achieving that goal? Is there any scope for increasing the number of civil servants who could move?

Mr. Boateng

We are on track for achieving the goal, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will make announcements about that as part of the spending review. The Department of Trade and Industry has made a commitment to reduce its headquarters staff by some 450 posts by 2006. That programme is already well under way, and we expect still more from the Dept.