A lot of my Parliamentary time in November was taken up by the Small Charitable Donations Bill Committee. You may view its web site to look at my contributions and find out more about the work of the committee here.
Treasury Questions – 6th November
Nigel Mills MP: The Government have seen the benefits that transparency can bring. Would it be good to require large corporates to publish their tax returns so that we can all see how they achieve the low rates of tax they pay?
David Gauke MP (Exchequer Secretary, HM Treasury; South West Hertferdshire, Conservative): It is right that large corporates engage in this debate, and there is a lot of public interest in the matter. One must ask whether tax returns in themselves will provide the full information—my hon. Friend has great expertise in this area—and whether that is the right way to address the issue. We have a tradition of taxpayer confidentiality in this country, as does every major economy.
Backbench Business – House of Commons Administration and Savings Programme – 8th November
Nigel Mills MP: Does my hon. Friend agree with the following two points? First, we are privileged to work in a palace, rather than some modern, purpose-built place that would be a lot cheaper to run, so we must find some way of defraying the costs of maintaining and repairing it, and it is right that not all of that cost should fall on the taxpayer. Secondly, we are also privileged to enjoy many services, functions and eating places. Unless we can find a way of generating more revenue to support those facilities, we will lose them, because the public will not stand forever for that being subsidised to the extent it has been in recent years.
John Thurso MP (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross; Liberal Democrat): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. On his point about catering “subsidy”, the actual sale prices in most of our outlets are comparable to either, in the case of the dining rooms, private sector outlets or, in the case of the cafes, a normal work canteen. The prime cost is that of food, which in the trade we used to call the kitchen cost, and that is comparable to similar commercial operations, so the gross profit, or kitchen profit, is comparable. The problem is that we occupy the facilities for only part of the week, so for the remainder of the week they cost money because they are serviced and there are staff. Therefore, the gross profit is insufficient to cover the total fixed cost, and on that basis we have a subsidy. I think that it is an appropriate subsidy, particularly if we are looking at this debate. Equally, his point that we should be reasonably expected to reduce that subsidy by the way we operate in order to give the best value is absolutely correct.
Nigel Mills MP: I am not sure that I am the best person to answer that question. However, when we have a programme that is running for seven years, with people being put on to it for two years, we cannot draw many conclusions from the data in the first few months of its operation. A decent period will have to elapse before we get some reliable data that will have some meaning and can be used to look at trends. I see why we have official data to the end of July this year, but data since then would have more relevance if we also had data from the first three months of the programme.
No Member of this House seriously disputes the need to provide those with most barriers in their way with the additional support that they need to get back to work. Many such people have been out of work for a long time and will need help with serious issues in order to build up confidence and have any chance of getting back to work. To be fair, the scheme of the previous Government towards the end of their time in office was not radically different from that introduced by the current Government. This Government have accelerated the change, introduced a more consistent programme over the whole country and brought the strands of different schemes into one programme, but the direction of travel is not entirely different. In fact, many providers involved with the previous scheme are also involved in the current one. It is not sensible to say that the Work programme is doing the wrong thing and is a terrible idea, and that its support is completely wrong. Where does that leave us? Surely it is not the Opposition’s policy to have no support at all for the long-term unemployed.
Liam Byrne MP (Birmingham, Hodge Hill; Labour): The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way. Our point is that there is not enough fuel in the tank. I am sure he is as worried as I am that on current performance, the Work programme may not hit its second-year target to get 27.5% of those on the programme into a long-term job. The Opposition motion says that we should start putting more fuel in the tank by providing extra resources for young people.
Nigel Mills MP: One problem of the Work programme is that the year we are looking at contained the second part of the double-dip recession. We all accept that it is hard for anyone to find work in a recession, let alone those who have been out of work for a long time and have the most barriers to overcome. We hope that as the economy gathers strength in the coming year, that will give the Work programme even more chance of success in meeting its second-year targets.
Margot James MP (Stourbridge, Conservative): My hon. Friend draws attention to some of the similarities between the Work programme and what went before. Does he agree that one key difference is the remuneration paid to Work programme providers? They get a £300 attachment fee when someone is referred to them, but do not receive further remuneration
until a candidate has been in work for six months. That provides a huge incentive—along with the fact that some applicants will have their benefits docked if they do not co-operate—and makes the Work programme a greater success than what preceded it.
Nigel Mills MP: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The motion suggests that people would have been better off without the Work programme and with no extra support, but the support it provides is valuable and not entirely different from that provided by providers in previous programmes. Payment by results, which I will come to, provides a far greater incentive to providers to get people back into work and, most importantly, not just to start a job but to find a sustainable position where they can remain for a long time. That is a key part of the programme.
The Work programme also fixed the problem of providers going for low-hanging fruit and getting back into work those who could do so most easily, while not placing quite the right focus on those who were more challenging. Remuneration for the Work programme means there are far more incentives to focus on the harder parts of the cohort.
Like my hon. Friend Margot James I have visited providers in my constituency—A4e and Ingeus—and I have seen their work and how they go about it. Importantly, somebody does not come through the door on the first day and start applying for jobs on the second; there is a long period of working out a person’s needs, what support they have, the training they need, and building their confidence, before they start applying for jobs. One does not expect providers to get people into work in the early months of their referral, which is why there is a problem with the statistics. We are looking at numbers of people who have been in work for six months of a programme that has existed for 13 months during a double-dip recession. The providers might not have even tried to get some of those people into work at the start of the programme—it is not a fair measure. Providers in my constituency are doing great work and the support they provide is valuable. I commend them on that, rather than saying that their work is worthless or worse than nothing.
No one would pretend that yesterday’s results were anything other than disappointing and concerning. We all wish that progress was quicker, and the whole House wants to get people back into work to improve the quality of their lives and for the sake of the taxpayer. However, the Work programme is a seven-year programme that gives individuals a two-year programme, and it is unfair to judge it on the basis of its first-year performance. We should look in a year’s time when the first cohort has spent two years in the programme. Let us look at the outcomes after the full two years, and see how many people are in work at that point.
Ben Gummer MP (Ipswich, Conservative): My hon. Friend is entirely right that the figures are disappointing. I am sure that he, like me, has had successful cases in his surgery. Two people who came to my surgery went through training schemes under the previous Administration—one of them had been unemployed for eight years—but found a job through the Work
programme, so it is having an effect in individual cases. It is certainly making an impact in my constituency, as I am sure it is doing in his.
Nigel Mills MP: Urging them to scrap or further delay fuel duty rise and scrapping beer duty escalator, which is bad for local pubs and breweries.
EU budget negotiations. Standing firm and not agreeing to an increase above inflation. Those of us that rebelled to get it down, PM is trying to take that forward.
My hon. Friend reinforces the point that it is utterly unreasonable to say that the scheme is worse than doing nothing.
Providers who cover my constituency have told me that they had only a short time to prepare before they started work. They said they had not worked in the east midlands before, so had not only to find staff, but to build links and form relationships with employers to convince them to take people in more challenging situations. Expecting brilliant results at the start of the programme does not work.
The latest data show that 29% of first referrals from June 2011 have now had a job start, and that 37% of under-25s have had a job start. Those are not terrible results; they are encouraging. In Amber Valley, the results are better than average: 4.2% of those referred have met the target of spending six months in a job. I accept that that is less than the 5.5% target, but it is well ahead of the national average. Amber Valley is generally performing well. Total jobseeker’s allowance claimants are down 21% since the election, and JSA claimants under 25 are down 24%. Claimants per vacancy are down from 6.2 to 1.5. That is not a disastrous situation, but a sign that things are going in the right direction. I sincerely hope it continues—[ Interruption. ]
Lindsay Hoyle MP (Deputy Speaker; Chorley, Labour): Order. I know a new Member will speak shortly, but could we just have a little quiet so we can hear Mr Mills?
Nigel Mills MP: Opposition Members clearly do not want to hear the truth of my argument.
The Select Committee on Work and Pensions report from last year, which was produced before I was a member of the Committee, gave the scheme a broad welcome, but one concern was the impact on smaller providers that are subcontractors to the main providers. I wholeheartedly endorse payment by results, but it can make things quite hard for organisations that are not large businesses with strong balance sheets, which can fund the gap. Given the delays in system, some of the smaller providers have found their cash flow squeezed and are struggling to survive. All hon. Members value their innovative ideas and the extra local knowledge they can add to the scheme, so will the Government, after seeing the results, find a way of reviewing how small providers are funded and ensure they can survive the transition period and continue to provide their valuable work?
Overall, there are some concerns with how the Work programme has started. We would prefer the numbers to be a lot better, but there are encouraging signs. The programme can be a success and performance is going in the right direction. I hope that, in a year’s time, we are talking about the great successes of getting the most challenged people—those who have been out of work for a long time—back into jobs, which will improve their lives and the situation for the taxpayer.