HC Deb 29 April 1968 vol 763 cc775-6
29. Mr. Costain

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works if he will give comparisons of output by private contractors and direct labour on council houses; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Mellish

When the price of work done by contractors in 1967 is divided by the number of their operatives, the answer is £600. When the cost of work done by direct labour departments of local authorities is similarly divided, the answer is £2,600. For a variety of reasons, these two figures are not comparable measures of productivity.

Mr. Costain

The right hon. Gentleman keeps on suggesting that these figures are not comparable. Is he aware that, in the public sector, public authorities and public utility companies employing direct labour account for only 14 per cent. of output, yet they employ 25 per cent. of the total labour force? How does the right hon. Gentleman explain that?

Mr. Mellish

I gave the figures for new council house building, which is what the Questions asks. There is a later Question regarding maintenance, which is a separate matter, asking how much is done by direct labour, and so on. Again, I make the simple point that it serves no useful purpose to have what I call this ideological battle about whether work is done by private enterprise or by direct labour. There are very efficient strata in both private enterprise and direct labour forces. There is some bad private enterprise and some good private enterprise, and there is some pretty rough direct labour, too.

Dr. Gray

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that direct labour forces make a contribution to competitive efficiency not only in output but also through their competitive tendering for contracts?

Mr. Mellish

Some of them do. The truth about direct labour is that it can be a success only if management is successful. It is no good blaming the carpenter, the decorator or whoever it is. If management is not successful in direct labour, direct labour is a failure. Management is the key to seeing that direct labour forces are successful.

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