Backbench Business — House of Commons Administration and Savings Programme

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:11 pm on 8th November 2012.

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Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Conservative, Mole Valley 2:11 pm, 8th November 2012

The two Chairs have covered the main points and, with the limit on time, I thought I might touch on some aspects of amendment (b)—not to oppose it, but to provide a tiny warning.

The package coming forward is a general public sector savings package that is in line with the target. The difference this time is that the report, and the thinking behind it, are being discussed in the Chamber. It has also been put together under a new attitude, which is to seek to provide better and more efficient services at less cost to meet the target. As has been mentioned, the officials putting the package together have worked very closely with staff and unions. In fact, many of the ideas for change have been derived from staff undertaking the service. That has enabled staff redeployment within the House of Commons service, rather than redundancies. Although hon. Members may not be aware of it, many services are already contracted out. Many services will come up for renewal, and, in the present atmosphere, they may well bring savings to themselves. In the event of franchising out, staff could of course move to the new provider with TUPE protection, or move within Chamber services themselves by redeployment.

The possibility of market testing has been extensively researched. The team undertaking it have had a free hand to assemble a business development plan. Outside private sector support and advice has been utilised. Market research to provide benchmark information has been undertaken, and that has given the Commission a forward-looking financial information system that it will be able to use to gauge whether it is worth market testing. Obviously, there has to be an in-house bid and the research will give such a bid a competitive edge.

While I understand the thinking behind amendment (b), I suggest caution. First, it seeks to tie the Commission and reduce its flexibility to choose the time of testing, if indeed that appears to be the choice to go for. Secondly, it may well delay savings. Some of the services projections indicate that the private sector could contribute to much lower costs in the latter half of a contract. That means that if tendering was chosen in some cases, the sooner this is undertaken the sooner we will get savings. Thirdly, from my own experience, outside advice on costs or savings always overestimates costs and if the service is tendered and, crucially, if the private sector bid, they have a benchmark that they know they can come in under. Finally, any outside bidder will know from the business improvement plans the bid level they must beat to win if we follow the amendment. I therefore hope there is some caution before we adopt amendment (b). Much credit must be given to the Administration Committee for looking at business improvement plans, efficiency savings and better use of our facilities. The House has already had a debate on this a few weeks ago.

I am concerned about amendment (c), tabled by my hon. Friend Robert Halfon. He appears to have missed the opportunity, but is now asking us for a second time to present before the House. Most of the areas in which he calls for commercialisation already happen in some way or other, although to a lesser degree, and therefore with less financial advantage to the House, but with no reduction of facilities to hon. Members. I hope he feels able to not press his amendment. The Administration Committee is suggesting careful extensions of our underused facilities to the UK public. Obviously, that would need to be done in a careful way, as indeed it is currently, so as not—if I may use the well-worn phrase—to bring the House into disrepute. I hope he realises that what he is proposing will result in further delay. It will be unsettling to staff. It will reduce the savings, because they would not be brought in earlier in the financial year, and that would mean further savings from other areas to meet the target.

The report comes as a package. That means that if there is any cherry-picking of specific items that reduce savings, they will need to be compensated by savings in other areas. I hope that when my hon. Friend stands up to speak, he thinks about that carefully before he puts his proposal. I hope that the House will approve the motion without amendment, so as to give the Commission a chance to consider points raised while retaining the flexibility to act appropriately on various aspects of the programme to the benefit of the House budgets and of Members’ services and staff.