HC Deb 24 June 1965 vol 714 cc1923-4
16. Mr. Farr

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether, in the next financial year, he will permit local education authorities with direct labour ground maintenance staffs which are not fully employed in the winter months to undertake site and playing field improvement schemes, off the ration, up to £2,000 on any one item.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. R. E. Prentice)

No, Sir.

Mr. Farr

Is the hon. Member aware that there is a widespread feeling amongst local education authorities that the whole of the mini-minor works allocation off ration should be restored to them? Is he also aware that this highlights a specific example, whereby there is a real danger of redundancy amongst ground maintenance staffs which are fully employed in the summer but unable to perform any of the off-ration works and will be short of work in the winter months.

Mr. Prentice

Of course, I am aware and have been made very well aware of the way in which local authorities value the mini-minor allocation, but I have explained several times in the House that this had to be removed in the sense that allowance had to be made for it out of minor works as a whole. This reduced the amount for allocation. This principle applies to any concession, however small, and it would have to be allowed for from the total minor works allocation. It is a call on resources and therefore reduces the amount avavilable for other urgent works.

Mr. Chataway

Because this does not add further burdens or make any definite demands on the resources of the building industry, would the hon. Gentleman reconsider this? It is a very modest proposal to relax this restriction a little.

Mr. Prentice

I have been studying very carefully in recent months various possibilities of relaxing restrictions. The difficulty is that any kind of work like this makes a demand on resources. If it is a modest piece of work, it is a modest demand, but it is still a demand. To free it in this way, to reduce the total allocation in this way, would create unfairness between one authority and another. All authorities have a great deal of work to do under this heading.

Mr. Morrison

While appreciating the difficulties in this matter, could I ask whether the hon. Member could suggest what should be done with ground maintenance staff in the winter if they are not fully employed on maintenance?

Mr. Prentice

I am advised that many authorities organise their labour force in such a way that they are fully employed in the winter. One of the difficulties with the suggestion is that this would create a new distinction between those authorities who organise a labour force in one way and those who do so in another. This would be resented by those which did not benefit from it.