§ 9. Mr. Robert Atkins
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the progress local authorities are making in reducing their staff numbers.
§ Mr. King
Total local authority manpower in England has been reduced by approximately 174,000—6.9 per cent.—full-time and part-time staff since 1979 and is now back to the level of 1972. But the rate of reduction has been slowing recently. I believe that there is scope for further reductions to reverse that tendency and I look to all local authorities to continue their efforts.
§ Mr. Atkins
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are still many councils—most of them Labour-controlled—which employ people in ridiculous jobs, such as minders for prostitutes and play leaders, at highly inflated incomes? Does he agree that many authorities 888 should do more to reduce their manpower—for example, by putting out the sale of council houses to private enterprise?
§ Mr. King
There is continuing scope for further reductions in local authority manpower. I hope that all authorities will realise the importance of that. I hope that my earlier illustration of the assistance that one council—I cited Birmingham, but there are others—gave to industry by reducing rates will be noted by everybody. The number of authorities that have large budgets and increasing staff in an attempt to support industry will find that the best contribution that they can make is to restrain their expenditure.
§ Mr. Hooley
What evidence has the Minister that, by creating unemployment in the public service; he has created any additional employment in manufacturing industry?
§ Mr. Stephen Ross
Does the Secretary of State now accept that the introduction of the most complicated and disastrous unified housing benefit scheme will add greatly to the costs of local authorities, which are bound to employ additional staff to run the scheme?
§ Mr. King
It is recognised that there might be some additional staff required to run the scheme, as there is a saving in staff at the DHSS. I thought that the House basically agreed that the scheme was a more sensible approach. I hope that it will be appreciated by its recipients, as it will avoid the confusing position that previously existed.
§ Mr. Stokes
Is my right hon. Friend aware that private manufacturing industry, which has cut its numbers to the bone, looks with amazement and dismay at the still high staffing levels in local authorities—which are responsible for the high rates that industry must pay?
§ Mr. King
I entirely understand my hon. Friend's point. I have never ceased to emphasise that it is important that everybody, whether in the public or private sector, realises that they have a joint concern for the prosperity of their own areas. I am anxious that there should be the closest consultation between the private sector and local authorities. A number of local authorities of all political pursuasions are now recognising the importance of that. I hope that the message is getting across that it is important to keep rate levels to the minimum.