HC Deb 29 November 1972 vol 847 cc413-7
31. Mr. Millan

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what sites are being considered for the dispersal of Civil Service work from London.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Civil Service Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

Several areas throughout the country are being considered as potential receiving locations to receive Civil Service work dispersed from London. These areas include Scotland.

Mr. Millan

I am glad to hear that. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he was widely reported in the Press as saying that no locations more than 180 miles from London would be considered for dispersal? That would be intolerable. Will he take this opportunity to deny it?

Mr. Baker

I was widely misreported, and I willingly take this opportunity to say that there is no limit whatever. The whole purpose of having a review of headquarters work is to look at those areas where there are under-utilised resources, and we are looking at all the development areas and regions of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that at present in Glasgow several modern new office blocks are available which would be suitable for Civil Service employment, and, moreover the average rentals charged in Glasgow are about one-quarter those of comparable offices in the centre of London?

Mr. Baker

Both those factors will be borne in mind by Sir Henry Hardman and his Committee. I should point out that Scotland has 42,000 civil servants. Since May, 1963, the last major exercise, 11,000 jobs have been dispersed or created in Scotland.

32. Mr. Millan

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what discussions are taking place with the Civil Service trade unions regarding the dispersal of Civil Service work from London.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

As I told the hon. Member yesterday, there have been consultations with the national staff side throughout the dispersal exercise. These consultations are continuing. Individual departments have been keeping their own staff sides informed.

Mr. Millan

It is obviously right that these discussions should take place with the trade unions, but is the Minister aware that there is a danger that the decision about location might be determined by national trade unions, which, since most civil servants are in London, will tend to be London-dominated? Should not the final decision be the responsibility of the Government, with regional policy considerations in mind? Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether that is the position?

Mr. Baker

The Government pride themselves on being good employers, and certainly, as good employers, we have already consulted and will continue to consult the national staff side. We have done this in dispersal exercises in the past and we shall certainly do so in this instance.

Mr. Heffer

Is there not a very good case for the local branches of the Civil Service unions being consulted, particularly in areas of high unemployment such as Merseyside? While the hon. Gentleman is considering dispersal, may I ask him to bear in mind that there are large office blocks in the centre of Liverpool, which have now been empty for a number of years, which could take Civil Service departments?

Mr. Baker

Yes. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are looking at areas like Merseyside and the North-West generally. Obviously I shall not be able to satisfy everybody on the question of dispersal. The North-West, apart from the South-East, has the highest concentration of civil servants. None the less, these factors will be taken into account by the Hardman Committee.

33. Mr. John Smith

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he will make a statement on the Government's policy for dispersal of Civil Service jobs to Glasgow and the West of Scotland.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

When existing plans have been completed, some 7,000 Civil Service jobs will have been dispersed to Glasgow and the West of Scotland since 1963. In addition, some 2,500 jobs will have been established in the Glasgow area under the policy of setting up new offices away from London. Scotland is also being considered during the current review of the possibilities of dispersing further work from London.

Mr. Smith

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Government's intentions concerning effective regional development policy will he looked at very closely in the light of what they do regarding Civil Service dispersal. In view of the high number of school leavers still out of employment in Glasgow and the West of Scotland, is it not clear that the bringing in of a large number of Civil Service jobs will give them the new opportunities which they desperately need.

Mr. Baker

Yes. As I said, these factors will be taken into consideration by the Hardman Committee. The whole purpose of having a dispersal exercise is the Government's belief that there is a great deal of good sense in taking jobs to people. That is the keystone of our regional policy.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that it might be of greater value to the economy of Scotland to reduce the burden of bureaucracy overall than to increase the burden of bureaucracy in Scotland?

Mr. Baker

I certainly agree that one of my responsibilities is the burden of bureaucracy. There is a Question on the Order Paper about this matter, and I have some quite encouraging figures to announce.

34. Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he will make a statement on progress made in the dispersal of Civil Service jobs from London.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

Since May, 1963, which is the date of the last major dispersal initiative, just over 22,000 posts have been dispersed, while another 8,300 are due to be dispersed under existing plans. In addition, just over 7,000 posts have been set up in new headquarters units outside London, and another 11,000 are awaiting establishment under current plans.

Mr. Mackenzie

In his dispersal policy will the Minister take into account the need to appoint some senior people into Scotland and other areas of that kind? If there is to be any encouragement for young people to enter the Civil Service, is this not exceedingly important?

Mr. Baker

Yes, indeed. We are conscious that in a programme of dispersal civil servants should be dispersed in sufficiently large numbers to provide a career base for those who are dispersed. I assure the hon. Gentleman, there having been several Questions on Scotland, that we are sympathetic. I hope that he will not take the view that the Government—or I, personally—are unsympathetic to Scotland's claims. The best thing I did in my life was to marry a Scot.

Mr. McBride

Has the Minister considered the claims of Swansea and South Wales as a point of dispersal for Civil Service jobs on three brief counts: first, that it is approximately 200 miles from London; secondly, that this would help in the diversification of employment, and, thirdly, taking everything into consideration, that the city is an extremely pleasant place in which to live?

Mr. Baker

Yes. I think that the Hardman Committee will take these factors into consideration. I should point out that Wales has been the lucky reception area of a substantial number of civil servants—particularly the Swansea area, which has the vehicle licensing centre.

Mr. Edward Short

Will the hon. Gentleman consider the experience of the Department of Education and Science, from which two important and large branches were dispersed to Darlington during the Labour Administration? Is there any reason why virtually the whole of a Government Department of that kind should not be sent to one of the development areas?

Mr. Baker

One problem about the dispersal of civil servants is that in the past we have tended to disperse executive blocks of work, and we are now looking at central policy units. They create considerable communications problems. However, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that these are just the kind of problems at which Sir Henry Hardman and his Committee will be looking.