Financial assistance from the Secretary of State

Part of Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 1st February 2018.

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Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 4:00 pm, 1st February 2018

Can I answer the point raised directly? It is absolutely the case that merging three bodies and having one building rather than three will create some degree of potential cost efficiencies, but we are absolutely of the view that those efficiencies should then be directed into frontline services. I can unequivocally give that assurance to the Committee.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the original response to the consultation. It is true that there is an expectation that rationalising the provision will create some operational efficiencies. One would expect that. However, that same response made it very clear that the intention was for any savings to be channelled to frontline delivery of debt advice, and money and pensions guidance. I could not be any clearer on that in any way whatsoever.

I manifestly want to make that point, but I also disagree that there will be an insufficiency of funding, and the reason for that, it seems to me, is threefold. First, this is effectively not taxpayer-funded; it is done by a levy. The levy is a moveable feast, depending upon the need identified by the individual organisation, and it is something that can be assessed and increased on an ongoing basis, to provide the service that, it seems to me, we all wish to ensure is there. Secondly, there is capacity to top up the levy, should the Secretary of State wish to do so, and the financial guidance body on an ongoing basis, and that additional funding can be provided.

The proposed amendment has the bizarre, counter- intuitive effect of removing the discretionary nature of the financial assistance that the Secretary of State can provide. I simply make the point that while we are keen to ensure that this body is run more efficiently, in terms of amalgamating most probably into the High Holborn offices of the Money Advice Service, we certainly believe that this is something the levy will be able to fund, and if it is the case that this expands the provision—the House of Lords seems to have done so and this House may do so as well—then the levy may go up to accommodate the need as has been described. With those assurances, I respectfully ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.