HC Deb 26 October 1983 vol 47 cc268-70
5. Mr. Tony Lloyd

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has made any forecast of the change in the total number of employees in local government service in England and Wales between the 1979–80 and the 1983–84 financial years.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

We do not attempt to forecast these figures, but I can tell the hon. Member that between June 1979 and June 1983 local authority manpower fell by 111,000 compared with an increase in Labour's last four years of 48,000.

Mr. Lloyd

Does the Secretary of State accept that the job losses, far from increasing the efficiency of local government services, have led to a cut in the quality and quantity of those services? Does he accept that local authorities have a critical role to play in the inner city areas and should be breaking the cycle of decline instead of being prevented from doing so by the Government's actions?

Mr. Jenkin

There is no correlation between the numbers of people employed and the quality of services provided. Some of the best services are provided by authorities which manage with the fewest people. One has only to recognise the quality of education provided by ILEA, which employs about 50 per cent. more staff per pupil than any other local authority, to see what I mean. I do not accept the correlation. I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman does not recognise the substantial contribution which the Government are making in the inner cities through the programme and partnership authorities and through other designated districts to provide the support for inner city regeneration, which the hon. Gentleman and many of his hon. Friends wish to see.

Mr. Forman

Is it not vital for local authority manpower to be used in the most efficient way? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, through legislation, other Departments often put on local authorities fresh statutory obligations which are not sufficiently taken into account in the rate support grant settlement?

Mr. Jenkin

I understand my hon. Friend's point. The local authority associations make the same point to us. The additional staffing required for any of the new duties placed upon local authorities is minute compared with the total volume of local authority staffing and expenditure. Moreover, a large number of authorities have managed to continue the downward trend in manpower, as requested by the Government, while taking on board new duties, such as the statutory sick pay scheme and the unified housing benefit.

Mr. Eastham

The Secretary of State seems to be boasting about the services provided by the inner cities. Is he aware of the sheer misery caused by transferring to local authorities extra duties such as providing rent subsidies? Local authorities are being compelled to take on thousands of workers because of the frustration and misery caused by the transfer of duties to the local town halls.

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman does not help his case by massive exaggeration. This is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. The Government are aware that in some areas the transition to the new unified housing benefit has been accompanied by some difficulties. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Under-Secretary of State are aware of the problem and are working on it.

Mr. Latham

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some hon. Members on the Government Benches need to be convinced that another reorganisation of local government will not mean more bureaucrats, or the same number of bureaucrats doing the same jobs for more pay, but under different names?

Mr. Jenkin

My hon. Friend should recognise that the monitoring and controls which we shall ask the House to accept when we introduce legislation go further than anything that has been done in any previous reorganization of local government. Ratepayers will expect nothing else in the light of experience. We are determined to ensure that my hon. Friend's anxieties are not justified.

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