The Government are Creating a Cabinet Office Empire

Today was Oral Questions to the Cabinet Office, which is a chance for the Opposition to question the Government on current issues and policies.

In Cabinet Office Oral Questions today Francis Maude once again boasted about mythical savings, this time from the apparent reduction of the government estate.

What the Minister disguised as a government efficiency drive seems to actually be a sneaky attempt to build the Cabinet Office’s empire. Cabinet Office agencies had 23,000 Sq metres of offices in 2011, which has now more than doubled to a staggering 56,000 sq metres.

Francis Maude reasoned that this increase was due to the National School of Government and the Central Office of Information being taken in by the Cabinet Office. However, what Francis Maude failed to highlight was the fact that these two bodies were actually both abolished in March 2012.

Despite the claims made today by Francis Maude, no real reductions in size have been made in the Cabinet Office; in fact it is rapidly increasing in size.

Voluntary and Community Sector

The Government’s attitude towards the voluntary and community sector (VCS) has been exposed for what it really is in recent months by a series of disasters, not least the shambles that is the ‘charity tax’ fiasco. Today’s Cabinet Office questions were the first opportunity to hold the Government to account and highlight how, if they thought through their unfair policies in the first place and listened to the sector, this embarrassing u-turn would not have been necessary.

In fact, the Cabinet Office was not consulted on the issue prior to George Osborne’s announcement in the March Budget, despite the policy falling firmly within the list of Cabinet Office responsibilities. The Government’s contemptible and dismissive attitude is having damaging consequences for the entire VCS and those who rely on it.

A recent report published by New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) has revealed the extent of this damage, showing that over two thirds of charities are being forced to cut frontline services at a time when many of these services are seeing increased demand. On top of this, almost three quarters of charities are having to make staff redundant. The Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd MP, offered no apology, nor a solution to this Government-created crisis in Cabinet Office questions today in the Chamber.

At the same time, the Government is systematically undermining another fundamental aspect of the VCS. Local volunteering organisations are suffering from the 12% cuts in government funding while the Work Programme has seen participants forced to ‘volunteer’, including volunteering at commercial high street stores, or risk losing their benefits. –

Most recently, volunteers on the Work Programme were bussed to London and forced to sleep under London Bridge with no access to basic facilities. The constant stream of negative headlines reveal just how out of touch and damaging the Government’s approach to volunteering is. My colleague Gareth Thomas MP, Shadow Minister for Civil Society, raised this point in detail at today’s questions but yet again, the Government failed to address his concerns.

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