HC Deb 21 December 1983 vol 51 cc414-5
4. Mr. Dixon

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many staff will be involved in servicing the proposed joint boards if the metropolitan counties and the Greater London council are abolished.

Mr. Waldegrave

This will be for each board to decide, although the relevant Secretaries of State will have power to specify levels of manpower or of manpower expenditure in the first three financial years after abolition.

Mr. Dixon

In his White Paper on the streamlining of the cities the Minister proposes to replace six metropolitan counties with between 24 and 30 joint boards, which will have power to levy their own precepts, 12 joint committees and dozens of giant complicated working arrangements? Is that how the Government intend to streamline the cities? Will not the Bill be introduced purely for political expedience?

Mr. Waldegrave

Of course not. The true comparison is with the existing structure of local authority committees, which is more complex than what we propose. It is essential that the lower-tier authority, which will be responsible for the services, and whose members will sit on the joint boards, should seek to minimise the need for new bureaucracy on the joint boards.

Mr. Conway

Bearing in mind my hon. Friend's reply to the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), and as I was a member of a metropolitan county council before I came here, may I ask whether it is not the case that for many of the Socialist members of metropolitan district authorities the metropolitan counties cannot he abolished soon enough?

Mr. Waldegrave

I have heard the same sort of comment myself.

Mr. Boyes

Does the Minister agree that it is a wicked act of vindictiveness to threaten the Tyne and Wear, other metropolitan councils and the GLC, and is it not a direct attack on our democratic processes and on the will of the people? Has he had any independent assessment made of the cost of winding up the Tyne and Wear council, the other councils and the GLC? If he has not, what is his assessment of the cost of carrying out this terrible process?

Mr. Waldegrave

Anyone would think that the position 11 years ago, when these metropolitan counties did not exist, had escaped the attention of the hon. Member. Opinions about savings are gradually being collected, and we already have the West Midlands estimate. Further savings will come in due course, depending on the results of the consultation period, and the hon. Member will no doubt be satisfied to find that the estimates on savings will, if anything, be on the higher rather than the lower side.

Mr. Forth

When we have achieved the staff reductions which will undoubtedly flow from these proposals, what plans has my Friend in mind for the magnificent building just across the river?

Mr. Waldegrave

We have no plans as yet for that magnificent building.

Mr. Madden

As the Government have retained more management consultants than any previous Government in living memory, does the Minister not think that it is a bit saucy for him to rubbish a management consultants' report that is critical of his proposals to abolish metropolitan councils? Surely it is extraordinary that the Government should embark on the proposal without producing any feasibility study of their own.

Mr. Waldegrave

Far from rubbishing the report, I said that the difference between its figures and ours was minimal.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Does the Minister recognise that there is all-party opposition to the proposals for the Inner London education authority? Will he confirm that Cabinet and ministerial colleagues in the Department of Education and Science are equally opposed to the proposal to take away directly elected and accountable authorities for London education and replace them with indirectly elected rate-capped authorities which have no support among those who know anything about and care for the education service in London?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman was talking nonsense in the last part of his supplementary question. We have presented the united plans of Her Majesty's Government.