HC Deb 25 July 1979 vol 971 cc582-4
7. Mr. Iain Mills

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied by the trends in local authority manpower as revealed in the latest quarterly survey; and whether he will make a statement.

24. Mr. Peter Lloyd

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what discussions he has had with the local authority associations regarding the manpower levels revealed by the latest quarterly survey.

Mr. Heseltine

No, Sir. It is clear that in the last year local authority manpower was on the upward trend, which must be reversed if reductions in local authority expenditure are to be achieved. The March 1979 joint manpower watch survey was discussed with the local authority associations on 9 July at the consultative council on local government finance, which I chair.

Mr. Mills

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comprehensive reply. Does he agree that if he were to abolish or diminish the masses of statutory, quasi-statutory and regulatory controls, including the many surveys and forms with which local authorities are involved, he could allow a considerable reduction in manpower?

Mr. Heseltine

The Government have undertaken a comprehensive review of controls. Shortly we hope to announce a substantial removal of such controls.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the freeze on staff recruitment is a short-term measure to meet the emergency that he inherited, and that in the long term what local authorities badly need is professional advice on staff utilisation and planning from such bodies as the local authorities management services and computer committee?

Mr. Heseltine

There are two approaches to the question. The first is to ensure that local authorities produce detailed figures to show how they are performing in comparison with other local authorities. The other is to encourage the maximum degree of experimentation at local authority level, together with accountability to their own electorates.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Is the Minister aware—I think that he is—that one cannot generalise on such matters? In the case of the London borough of Newham there is the tragedy of Ronan Point, which is still not settled. There are three tower blocks that may fall down at any time, from which the occupants must be evacuated. Other houses in the vicinity must also be evacuated. This means that there will be thousands of people probably wanting houses. Does not that mean extra staff to deal with those problems? Will the Minister do something to help those people?

Mr. Heseltine

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, in fairness, will remember that the problem buildings to which he referred were built under the tightest central Government control—

Mr. Lewis

People's lives are involved.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not shout.

Mr. Lewis

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise to you and to the House. However, people's lives are involved and the Minister is playing politics on the matter.

Mr. Heseltine

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I said he would have realised that my reply had nothing to do with party politics. The buildings of the kind to which he refers were constructed under a system of detailed central Government control. That did not stop them being built. It is difficult for me to see why we should assume that yet more central Government control will solve the problem.