HC Deb 21 July 1982 vol 28 cc389-91
13. Sir William Elliott

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the total numbers of architects employed full or part-time in England in local authority departments in each of the past three years.

17. Mr. Steen

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the total number of staff, principals and their assistants, employed full or part-time in England in the town and country planning departments of local authorities.

19. Mr. Greenway

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the total number of staff employed full or part-time in England in the refuse collection and disposal departments of local authorities in each of the past two years.

Mr. Heseltine

From figures available in the joint manpower watch, the total numbers of staff, full or part-time, employed by local authorities in England were as follows:

In architectural services, including professional and administrative staff, at March in each of the past three years:

1980 23,152
1981 21,708
1982 20,265
In planning departments, including building control staff, at March 1982: 20,044;

In refuse collection and disposal services at March in each of the past two years:

1981 46,294
1982 43,640

Sir William Elliott

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if public architects' departments in local authorities were reduced in size a considerable saving could be made and architectural contracts could be put out to competitive tender?

Mr. Heseltine

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I can commend all local authorities to review the services that they provide and to test whether they can provide them more cheaply through the private sector.

Mr. Steen

Although my right hon. Friend will be delighted to learn that the number of local authority days lost through strikes was reduced from 1.25 million in 1977 to 0.25 million in 1980, does he agree that the best way to protect the ratepayer from the powers of the unions is to contract out as many services as possible to private enterprise?

Mr. Heseltine

I welcome what my hon. Friend said. I shall not cease to encourage local authorities to pursue that course of policy.

Mr. Greenway

Is my right hon. Friend not worried that the rise in local authority employees from 2 million to more than 3 million between 1965 and 1980 has put heavy pressure on the rates? Does he agree that services can be performed better by private enterprise? Will he try to push services out to private enterprise from local authorities wherever that is possible?

Mr. Heseltine

I agree with my hon. Friend's sentiments. He will realise that local authorities are autonomous bodies and that I do not have the power to compel them to act in that way. There is considerable scope for more private sector competition for local authority services. The evidence, such as it is, shows that where such competition exists the ratepayers get a better deal.

Mr. Hoyle

When the Secretary of State gives that advice, will he be giving any advice on the terms and conditions that should be adopted by private enterprise? Will he follow the lead that he gave when he appointed Arnold Montague Alfred as chief executive of the PSA on £50,000 a year, plus VAT, which is paid into his management consultancy service company, which is owned by him and his wife? Will the right hon. Gentleman give that advice, which will cost more money rather than save it?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful for the opportunity to refer to the appointment of Mr. Alfred as head of the Propery Services Agency. He is now presiding over one of the fastest decreasing Government Departments in Whitehall. If I were asked to give local authorities guidance, my answer would be clear. As the private sector can usually provide a better service at less cost, local authorities should try to achieve those terms.

Mr. Anthony Grant

Will my right hon. Friend examine examples in other Western industrialised countries and note that in each one, including Sweden, there is much less local authority activity, especially in refuse collection? Is he aware that many more services in those countries are hived-off to the private sector than in Britain, much to the benefit of their citizens?

Mr. Heseltine

I know that my hon. Friend has made a study of these matters. I have recently taken the opportunity to visit Southend—not quite as far afield as my hon. Friend went—where it is quite apparent that the employees of the private sector firm, the firm itself and the ratepayers—the people whose refuse is being collected—are delighted with the change. I hope that all my right hon. and hon. Friends will ask their local authorities the same questions that they are now asking me.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

Is the Secretary of State aware that when there are countless thousands of unemployed construction workers in the North and when the city of Newcastle upon Tyne has a waiting list of 12,000 for council houses, the local authority is employing 22 per cent. fewer architects than when the right hon. Gentleman took office? Does he agree that that is deplorable?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want to ask about the reasons for the capital reductions that he was keen to support when the party of which he is a member was in office. The Government have witnessed the first reversal in capital allocations to local authorities since 1975. Local authorities have responded to that by underspending on capital receipts by £400 million.