HC Deb 02 December 1981 vol 14 cc218-20
2. Mr. Dover

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many local authority staff and operatives have been declared compulsorily redundant in the last five years.

The Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services (Mr. Tom King)

No information is collected centrally on the number of staff made compulsorily redundant, as opposed to natural wastage and voluntary redundancies. However, we believe that there have been only a relatively small number in the overall reduction of 92,000 full and part-time workers since June 1979.

Mr. Dover

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there seems to be one for the private sector and another law for the public sector? Is he aware that there are large engineering, architectural, planning and direct labour staffs throughout the country with little or no work to do? Does he consider that the Government should try to encourage local authorities to offload some of the labour, as will be the case in the private sector?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend will be aware that we have been urging local authorities to pay particular attention to those aspects, and in that connection our proposals about the publication of information on manpower have undoubtedly been helpful. I understand the reason why my hon. Friend makes that point. It is true that since the Government came to office we have reduced the central Civil Service by 6.5 per cent., and that in the Department of the Environment by 12 per cent. The current reduction in local government is only 3.2 per cent., and we are looking for a significant improvement on that.

Mr. Grimond

Will the Minister either give the figures or make an estimate of the figures for the total number of local authority staff five years ago and today? He said that there had been a reduction in local authority staff. Does that refer to last year, and what was the reduction?

Mr. King

The figure that I gave was 92,000 full and part-time workers since June 1979. I would need to check the exact figure for five years ago. When the Government came into office the number of local government employees was at an all-time record level, and it had increased by over 1 million full and part-time workers in the previous 20 years.

Mr. Hoyle

Does the Minister agree that the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover), who was in charge of a direct labour scheme, might be telling a different tale if he were still employed in the public sector, as he was before entering Parliament?

Mr. King

With the experience that my hon. Friend brings to the House he is, perhaps, more aware than any other hon. Member of the importance of direct labour organisations being operated efficiently and competitively. There is no justification for such organisations continuing if they are not able to operate competitively and efficiently.

Mr. Butcher

Is my right hon. Friend aware that since 1970 local authority manpower has increased by approximately 500,000, and that in the same period the House has enacted over 100 Acts of Parliament which have either amended or increased the duties of local authorities? Does he agree that if we are to get back to the staffing levels of 1970 there is an urgent need for the review or repeal of much of that legislation?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend will be aware that one of the first actions that we took on coming into office was to make it an absolute requirement that any circular issued to local government should be scrutinised for manpower and financial implications, because not only legislation, but the impact of circulars, can have a major effect on manpower. In that connection, I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased about the substantial reduction in circulars, as well as legislation. In their last year of office the previous Government issued 1,800 circulars to local government, and we reduced the figure to 600 in our first year of office.

Mr. Graham

Does the Minister not realise that his pressure in that respect has resulted in a deterioration in local services? Is he aware that in the London borough of Enfield, and in many other London boroughs, staff cuts have led to a reduction in the quality of services in refuse collection, libraries, social services and education? Although the Secretary of State may congratulate Enfield on reducing its overall work force by 2.3 per cent. in the past 12 months, does he not appreciate that Enfield, like many other authorities, is simply putting out more and more work to private contractors and small local firms? Where is the efficiency and saving in that?

Mr. King

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should mention refuse collection as an area where the Government are putting on appalling pressure, leading to dangerous cuts in services. It has become increasingly apparent in the last few years that there are substantial economies to be made—often accompanied by a better standard of service—by the better operation of refuse collection. In many of those areas private contractors have played an outstanding part in ensuring better value for money for the ratepayer.