HC Deb 30 July 1975 vol 896 cc1789-91
3. Mr. Rifkind

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what advice he is giving to local authorities in Scotland to ensure that expenditure for salaries and related purposes are in accordance with the Government's counter-inflation policy.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

I shall shortly be writing to Scottish local authorities about the White Paper on "The Attack on Inflation" and the provisions of the Remuneration, Charges and Grants Bill which specifically concern them. Ministers have taken and will continue to take every suitable opportunity to remind authorities of the need for restraint in their expenditure and, in particular, for economies in staff costs.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the Secretary of State realise that, quite apart from repeated increases in local authority salaries for senior officials, the great perks bonanza is continuing, with reports of 5½ per cent. mortgages and cheap car loans for senior officials paid for out of ratepayers' money? Does he further realise that this growing tendency of certain local authorities to spend money as if it were going out of fashion is creating a serious and grave danger of bringing local authorities into total disrepute? Will the right hon. Gentleman end his spineless silence and not merely caution restraint but demand an immediate probe and full inquiry into the remuneration of local authority senior officials to end the contempt with which ratepayers are being treated?

Mr. Ross

It is a pity that we did not have the benefit of the presence of the hon. Gentleman in the House when the Conservative Government put through the Act reorganising local government. I do not doubt that he was one of those Scottish Conservatives who had their cars labelled "Freedom". Evidently he does not trust local authorities. We are taking every opportunity in these and other matters to impress on local authorities the need to use their freedom wisely and well. The feelings of ratepayers are what matter in this respect.

Mr. Dempsey

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, according to one report, one officer in the Strathclyde Region will receive a salary of £17,000 per year because he looks after a population of 2½ million? Does he realise that, as Secretary of State for Scotland, looking after 5 million people, he should therefore receive £34,000 a year, and that the Prime Minister, respresenting a population of 55 million, should have £374,000 a year? Is it not time that we scrapped this unrealistic machinery and introduced a new negotiating authority which would peg local government officers' salaries substantially below those of Cabinet Ministers?

Mr. Ross

I am interested in what my hon. Friend said. I shall immediately sign him up as my personal shop steward in respect of these matters. We have negotiating machinery, covering the whole country, on which there are representatives of ratepayers. For example, there are representatives of Scottish local authorities on the negotiating boards. I remind my hon. Friend that at one time he was very concerned about this matter. What we have to impress upon local authorities is the importance, at any time, of the negotiations in hand.

Mr. Rifkind

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I intend to raise the matter on the Adjournment.