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Mr. Osborne: I am grateful to the Chief Secretary for allowing me to interrupt his pocket-book sloganising to answer my question. While he is talking about spending increases, will he put this debate in context and tell us which taxes have gone up to pay for themand where those tax increases were spelled out in Labour's manifesto?
Mr. Boateng: The hon. Gentleman normally does better than that. There were many of us who were glad that he was not on holiday and hoped for his preferment. [Interruption.] Let me answer his question. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor laid out our policies for taxation in the Budget. As a result of the decisions that he has taken, our rates of company taxation are lower than those of all but 12 of our partners and competitors in Europe. It is because of his decisions that this country is now a preferred destination for inward investment, second only to the United States. That is because of his fiscal policies. They are the envy of the world, and the hon. Gentleman ought to have the grace to accept that.
It is important that we ensure that investment is linked to reform. That is the significance of the public service agreements. There has been much interest in the past few weeks in PSAs, and it is right that there should be. It is important that we have a proper debate, but there should not be any great party political difference on the subject. PSAs are about transparency, accountability and good governancean agenda to which we can surely all sign up.
The charge is that PSAs are in some way a manifestation of this Government's supposed centralising tendencies, but in fact the reverse is true. By setting clear and measurable targets, publishing information on those targets, and collating the information in one easily accessible location, we empower not the Government but the people who elected us and who can use the information to hold Departments to account.
We must take this debate forward on a clear understanding of PSAs. They set out a Department's plans to deliver results in return for the investment that it receives. They are focused on outputs and not inputs. They provide a clear statement of priorities and a clear sense of direction around which all those involved in delivering can focus. They are part of a culture of transparency and accountability, but require an attitudinal shift: that all of us engage and recognise the need for continued improvement.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney): Will the Minister explain why the Lord Chancellor's Department's PSA target of paying small businesses within 30 days had to be dropped after conversations with the Treasury?
Mr. Boateng: If the hon. Gentleman examined the Department's performance, he would see that it is the Lord Chancellor's Department's intention and practiceit has delivered on that intention and practiceto provide a better service to small businesses. The whole point of such a target[Interruption.] Opposition Members who question the need for targets and their value should give some credit where there has been achievement. They need also to understand that the whole point of the targets is not that they should run in perpetuity. It is rather that they should provide a focus for improvement and that that improvement should be delivered. That is the case for the example that the hon. Gentleman has cited.
As part of the spending review process, Departments set out alongside their bids their proposed PSAs. They are discussed along with the Departments' track record of delivering against existing targets, and once agreed, Departments are then responsible for reporting progress and delivering on their PSAs. The advantage of that approach is that it addresses precisely the question on Departments' performance that hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised on behalf of their constituents: they provide the opportunity to examine whether there has been progress.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): While the Chief Secretary is on the subject of PSAs, will he explain how the Foreign Office will meet its top PSA, which includes a target of reducing poppy cultivation in Afghanistan by 70 per cent. within five years?
Mr. Boateng: The reason why such a target exists ought to be self-evident to anybody who is concerned about drugs on our streets. When we are applying large sums of public money in order to enable the Foreign Office, the MOD and agencies that have responsibility in
Mr. Boateng: There is nothing stupid about it. It is clearly important that Departments understand that they need to work in ways that deliver results and that those results should be measurable. Those who cry out against such targets have to explain how they intend to ensure that value for money is secured and that Departments respond in a way that is capable of demonstrating that they are making best use of the money available to them.
This is our responsibility, and it is ultimately for the House, on the basis of the evidence approved by the National Audit Office and the Office for National Statistics, to judge whether targets have been met and to hold Ministers and Departments to account for their successful delivery. That is about transparency and accountability, and it is a vital part of good governance.
Roger Casale (Wimbledon): My right hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of public service agreements, which will help the public, above all, to see that the extra money that the Government are putting into public services is being wisely spent. Under the Conservative Government, public service agreementshad they existed thenwould have helped the public to register the fact that no investment was being made.
Mr. Boateng: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Alongside PSAs lie independent audit and statutory inspection. Departments and agents are fully accountable for their performance against those targets.
Mr. Bercow: I am extremely grateful to the Chief Secretary for giving way to me. Unfortunately, his rhetorical overload cannot camouflage the Government's dismal record of underperformance. Can he answer this very straightforward question: why did the Treasury set itself a public service agreement target and guarantee to measure the level of Treasury output, only to announce now that
Mr. Boateng: Because we have met our other targets, and because 90 per cent. of all the targets set by the Government for delivery in 2002 have been met or are on the way to being met. The reality is that all the huff and puff in the world cannot hide the fact that we need to make sure that resource delivers improved performance. We have to have a transparent and accountable system, and PSAs are the best way to achieve that.
It is no use the Opposition describing partnership as cliché. We have made available a significant increase in child care provision. Our approach has created and is in the process of delivering 250,000 child care places by 2006, targeted on the most disadvantaged areas. That is not only about ensuring that children get a good start in life, but about bringing women back into the workplace and enhancing and improving productivityall things that the Conservatives failed to do when they had stewardship of our economy.
We want to build on the partnerships that have been created between the voluntary and community sectors and Government. In the course of the cross-cutting review of the delivery of public services by the voluntary sector, it became clear that there were still areas in which improvement was needed and that barriers needed to be removed. As a result, I can announce that there is to be a new one-off three-year fund worth £125 million to help such organisations in their public service work. Called futurebuilders[Hon. Members: "Oh dear."]the aim of the fund is to increase the scope and scale of voluntary sector service delivery, to remove obstacles in the path of organisations that want to deliver services, and to provide the means to modernise operations in the long term.