HC Deb 15 February 1988 vol 127 cc701-2
56. Mr. Terry Davis

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what further steps he is taking to improve morale in the Civil Service.

Mr. Luce

I am always looking for ways to improve morale in the Civil Service.

Mr. Davis

Does the Minister accept that there are serious grounds for concern when 42 per cent.of the Inland Revenue staff vote against accepting wage increases of up to 16 per cent. simply because they do not trust their employer, the Government? Is it surprising that they do not trust the Government, when the Government decided arbitrarily and without consultation to give to charity the money that is due to retired civil servants because of the Government's error in calculating the retail prices index?

Mr. Luce

Civil Service pay is principally a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that we are moving increasingly to a position where we have flexible pay schemes and additions to cater, in particular, for recruitment and retention problems which arise either in specialist skills or in particular areas. That is the best way to deal with the special problems in parts of the Civil Service.

Mr. Holt

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if there is low morale in the Civil Service in the London area it is because of staff shortages? Many civil servants are having to work undue and unnecessary overtime. Much of this could be eliminated if the Civil Service were moved to other parts of the country, such as my constituency in the north-east of England, where there are many who could fill those jobs, and therefore the morale of the people in the north and in the south would be improved.

Mr. Luce

I take my hon. Friend's point. It is worth noting that four out of five civil servants are already working outside London, in various parts of the country, and that is a sizeable proportion. If, on cost grounds, it is justified to move other civil servants out of London, this continues to happen under the relocation process. In addition, Government Departments have been flexible on staffing and there is some room for manoeuvre in Customs and Excise and in the Department of Health and Social Security.

Mr. Robert Sheldon

It is difficult to improve morale in the Civil Service when there is all this talk about breaking up the Departments and hiving off successive parts of their responsibilities. Does the Minister recall the words of the Fulton committee, which stated that any complete separation of policy-making from execution could be harmful? Is the Minister aware that the only way to settle this problem is to publish the Robin Ibbs report as soon as possible?

Mr. Luce

One of the points to stress to the right hon. Gentleman is that all the evidence suggests that civil servants want to enjoy greater responsibility. In the past few years they have, increasingly, been given that responsibility under the financial management initiative, of which the right hon. Gentleman is aware. It is evident from all our discussions with the Civil Service that it would welcome greater responsibility. I believe that that will make for even more professional management in the Civil Service.

Mr. Soames

Does my right hon. Friend accept that a lot of nonsense is talked about morale in the Civil Service? By and large morale is extremely high because civil servants know that most of them do an excellent job. Does my right hon. Friend also agree that there is great scope for civil servants to exchange more with industry and the private sector, and will he now seek to make substantial progress in that matter?

Mr. Luce

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is certainly the case that in the last few years the Civil Service has achieved a number of great things. It is certainly more professional and much more efficient than it was about 10 years ago. As a result of efficiency scrutinies and the achievements of the Civil Service, more than £1 billion of taxpayers' money has been saved.

My hon. Friend and I attach great importance to secondment and interchange. He will know that there has been a substantial increase in such secondments, and it is something that the Government want to encourage and strengthen still further. I hope that after I have completed my discussions with Government Departments, by about the spring, I shall be able to say something further on that subject.

Dr. Marek

Does the Minister accept that arbitrary or high-handed decisions, without consultation, do nothing whatsoever to increase morale in the Civil Service? Did he listen to the "Today" programme on Radio 4 this morning? If so, he would have heard that the agreement of Mr. Keith Mack, the controller of the national air traffic services, to go to meet the IPCS to talk about safety had to be literally dragged out of him. Can the Minister tell us precisely why he did not talk to the trade unions and the employees—the civil servants— before giving their money away to charity because of the recent RPI error?

Mr. Luce

The hon. Gentleman is aiming some of his questions at other Departments and it is for the relevant Ministers to answer them. I believe that we can say without any doubt that the Government's objective is always to take the interests of civil servants and the unions into account. That is what we seek to do, and that is what we shall continue to do.