Civil Service Staffing: Member Correspondence

Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons at on 9 June 2022.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the level of civil service staffing to support timely responses to correspondence from hon. Members.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Attends Cabinet)

The Government attach great importance to the effective and timely handling of correspondence. Officials remain committed to providing the highest level of service. As part of our commitment to transparency, we have published data related to letters from MPs and peers answered by Government in 2021, which shows that Cabinet Office timeliness improved each quarter, with 89% of letters—89%—received from hon. Members in quarter four responded to within 20 days.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

To get a response: the Equalities Minister, four months; the Health Minister, often four months but can be six months; and the Defence Minister, seven months, with our staff chasing and chasing, while being on the phone for three hours, or up to five hours to UK Visas and Immigration. Behind every letter and every call our office makes is someone in need—often pressing need. We all know that this is due to capacity, so how can the Government state that they plan to cut 20% of civil servant jobs, 91,000 people, when they cannot even cope with undertaking the most basic of tasks?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Attends Cabinet)

I recognise the importance of the correspondence for those constituents who write in. It might be instructive to know that Departments have continued to receive a significantly higher volume of correspondence in 2021, mainly due to the pandemic, and that has had an impact on resource and timeliness of responses. During 2021, most Departments continued to receive a significantly higher volume of correspondence. The Department for Transport was able to answer 92% of 13,363 letters, the Ministry of Defence 88% of 3,773 letters, and the Department for International Trade 84% of 2,182 letters, within 20 days.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, House of Commons Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. Can I gently say that I and the former Leader of the House, Mr Rees-Mogg, have been struggling to ensure that Members’ letters, from all sides, are answered? We should not try to defend the indefensible. I will be honest: Members need letters on behalf of their constituents to be answered as quickly as possible and, unfortunately, I am getting all the complaints. So I just want to add that to the burden to take away.

I call James Grundy. Not here.