HC Deb 07 March 1988 vol 129 cc16-7
73. Mr. Allen

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what represetations he has received from the Civil Service trades unions regarding the proposal to establish agencies to run certain functions of the Civil Service.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Richard Luce)

None. The Head of the Home Civil Service met leaders of the Civil Service unions on 18 February to explain the Government's proposals, and the project manager is ready to meet them when they have considered these proposals.

Mr. Allen

Is the Minister aware that when Sir Robin Butler met representatives of the Civil Service trade unions they were not reassured that there is no hidden agenda behind the Government's proposals and feel that disestablishing of the Civil Service may be a prelude to privatising parts of the Civil Service? Will he assure the House that members of the Civil Service will have their wages and conditions maintained under any new arrangement? Will he agree to meet leaders of the Civil Service trade unions to answer their questions direct, as he is responsible for them?

Mr. Luce

There will be plenty of scope for consultation with unions when we discuss each agency as it is put forward for the establishment of an agency arrangement. We must get it straight. The hon. Gentleman referred to "dis-establishing" the Civil Service. There is no question of that. People who will in future be part of the agency arrangements will still be members of the Civil Service. There will be no change in that policy on privatisation. If a body currently under Government control is thought to be better managed outside the Government, that is a separate matter. On the whole, what we are considering are organisations that remain under Government Departments.

74. Mr. Neil Hamilton

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service to what extent managers of Government agencies will be able to recruit, set pay, grade and structure staff under the proposed Civil Service reforms.

Mr. Luce

This will depend on the framework agreement for each agency. The aim is to give agencies flexibility to manage their own affairs within necessary overall controls.

Mr. Hamilton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the public interest would be served by having the maximum flexibility in setting pay, grades and determining the number of staff to be employed in these agencies? Does he further agree that placing a straitjacket around the public services in this country has been one of the biggest curses that we have had to face, as we are now discovering with the National Health Service?

Mr. Luce

I think that my hon. Friend must be right. We are trying to improve still further the quality of management in the Civil Service. To do that it is necessary to delegate inure responsibility to managers. We have been trying to do that over the last few years under the financial management initiative, and the agency arrangement takes that process a stage further. This is a good thing, and I think that it will lead to improved performances and results in the Civil Service. After all, the Civil Service costs £13 billion in gross running costs. The taxpayer is entitled to the best value for money. I believe that flexibility is right, subject to certain conditions about levels of public expenditure and about standards of fair and open competition in the service.

Dr. Marek

The Minister cannot have it both ways. He cannot tell my hon. Friend he Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) that the staff will continue to be part of the Civil Service, and at the same time agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) that maximum flexibility is to be welcomed.—[Interruption] If not maximum flexibility, he said that he welcomed flexibility. Can the Minister categorically assure the House that the staff of the agencies will continue to be United Kingdom civil servants and be part of the United Kingdom Civil Service? Can he further assure the House that pay and conditions for the staff of the agencies will continue to be negotiated as at present?

Mr. Luce

I see no conflict at all in this. We seek only to continue a process that has already started. First, we have already started to delegate more responsibility to managers in the Civil Service. Secondly, to come hack to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), we have started to have more flexibility of pay and conditions. London weighting is already a variation in the pay system and we are developing other forms of flexibility in pay. We are simply taking the developments a stage further. Broadly speaking, the agencies will remain in Government Departments for the foreseeable Future. If we think that privatisation is the right path, that is a separate issue altogether. Those who work for the agencies will remain civil servants and under those conditions.

Mr. Rowe

Does my right hon. Friend accept that this is a very valuable initiative? Does he agree that even before the Fulton committee report there was tremendous difficulty in attracting people into the Civil Service for limited terms? Does he envisage the creation of the new agencies as one device for getting over that considerable difficulty?

Mr. Luce

There are already examples of that. A number of people are recruited from outside the Civil Service for a defined period and under contractual arrangements to undertake particular tasks. I think that from time to time we shall see this develop within the agency system where no existing civil servant is found to be the right chap, for example, to be the chief executive. By and large it is likely that civil servants will be the chief executives, but there may be cases where outsiders come in to serve in the agencies on fixed contracts for short terms.