Prime Minister's Questions, factchecked

7th Dec 2016

Jobcentre closures

“The Department for Work and Pensions has plans to cut the estate by 20%. What the DWP is planning to do to Glasgow is to cut it by 50%. Why is this government planning to disproportionately cut vital Jobcentres in some of the most deprived communities in our country?”

Angus Robertson MP, 7 December 2016

The Department for Work and Pensions confirmed to us that reports of Jobcentre Plus closures in Glasgow are true.

BBC Scotland reports that eight of the 16 Jobcentre Plus offices in Glasgow are to be closed. The DWP says that there should be no job losses, and that benefits claimants won’t have to travel for more than four miles or for longer than 40 minutes to an office.

It’s also correct that, under plans announced in November 2016, the DWP is aiming to occupy “20% less estate” nationally. This comes on top of a 17% reduction in the last parliament, according to Civil Service World.

The comparison isn’t quite exact: the 20% reduction in the DWP’s buildings could conceivably include back offices, not just Jobcentre Plus facilities.

David Lidington, standing in for the Prime Minister, said that the important thing is “not the raw number of offices that there should be, but about how accessible the offices and the services which they provide continue to be for the people who need to use them”.

EU customs union and the Irish border

“In May, when visiting Northern Ireland, [David Lidington] said if the UK was not part of the [EU] customs union then there would have to be custom checks at the border. And he said that for anyone to pretend otherwise would be, and I quote, ‘flying in the face of reality’.”

Emily Thornberry MP, 7 December 2016

“The Prime Minister and the Northern Ireland Secretary have repeatedly made it clear, as indeed has the Irish government, that we want to see the very longstanding common travel arrangements and the free trade arrangements across the Irish border continue”.

David Lidington MP, 7 December 2016

It’s true that politicians on both sides of the Irish Sea have repeatedly said that there shouldn’t be customs checks on the Northern Irish border. The problem, for those worried about the prospect, is that it’s not their choice to make.

The government’s position before the referendum was that “outside the EU’s Customs Union, it would be necessary to impose customs checks on the movement of goods across the border”.

Mr Lidington’s remarks in May reflect the official line at the time, although they seem to have been about the Common Travel Area facilitating the movement of people rather than customs checks on goods. But the point he made can be applied equally to customs checks: “this would depend on what Ireland's obligations were with an EU of 27”.

The UK can’t negotiate directly with Ireland to keep free trade across the border. Trade negotiations are an all-EU matter—individual countries like Ireland aren’t allowed to strike their own deals.

Even if an EU-UK trade agreement is reached, with the UK outside the customs union there would still have to be some kind of customs checks on the Irish border. That’s because such agreements come with ‘rules of origin’ to verify that goods purporting to be from Ireland don’t actually come from, say, China. These rules of origin would need to be enforced somehow.

We go into more detail in this piece.

Ethnic diversity on company boards

“The FTSE 150 has less than 4% of individuals from an ethnic minority on its boards. Will the government support a vision to help increase that by 10% to 2021?”

Rehman Chishti MP, 7 December 2016

The most recent UK Board Index report identified 73 out of  1454 directors from FTSE 150 companies headquartered or mainly operational in the UK, western Europe, the US, and Australia, as being from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

That’s about 5%, although the report added that it might not have been a comprehensive count.

Only 23 were also British citizens, so about 1.6% of the total.

Which is a much smaller proportion than in the UK population as a whole. 13% of the UK population were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds at the last census.

The data comes from Spencer Stuart, a headhunting company. It publishes an annual review of the boards of the largest 150 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Mr Chisti’s office told us that he was referring to Spencer Stuart’s 2015 report, which also estimated about 5% representation across company boards. Business Insider reports that it drops to 4% if you exclude companies based in “emerging market nations”, although we didn't find this figure in the report itself.

Rail delay compensation: what’s new?

“The government has introduced new rules to ensure that rail passengers will soon be able to claim compensation if their train is more than 15 minutes late.”

David Lidington MP, 7 December 2016

In October the Department for Transport announced it would be introducing the ‘Delay Repay 15’ scheme. This will allow passengers to claim 25% of the cost of a single fare back if they experience a delay of between 15 and 29 minutes.

The scheme isn’t up and running yet, but will be introduced to Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express services on 11 December.

It will then be rolled out on other services including the South Western, West Midlands and South Eastern franchises. The government has said that all rail franchises will eventually include a requirement to introduce the Delay Repay 15 scheme.

Under the existing Delay Repay scheme, passengers can get 50% of their single ticket refunded if they’re delayed for 30 minutes or more, or the full price returned to them if they have longer than 60 minutes to wait. Rail companies which aren’t covered by the Delay Repay scheme have to refund at least 20% of the price of a single ticket if a train is either 30 or 60 minutes delayed, depending on the company.

At the moment, if a train is delayed for less than 30 minutes companies don’t have to offer passengers compensation.