HC Deb 06 November 1991 vol 198 cc439-40
9. Ms. Primarolo

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects the extension of compulsory competitive tendering to come into effect.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert Key)

Our consultation paper, "Competing for Quality: Competition in the Provision of Local Services", which was published yesterday, proposes that compulsory competitive tendering should be extended to a range of local authority services, and should come into effect at different dates from late-1992 onwards.

Ms. Primarolo

Is the Minister aware that, for hundreds of thousands of women who work in local authorities, compulsory competitive tendering has meant that their pay has been cut, their hours lengthened and their terms and conditions considerably weakened? Given the Prime Minister's commitment to the cause of women's equality, will the Minister give an undertaking that compulsory competitive tendering will be cancelled as a gesture towards improving women's pay and conditions of work?

Mr. Key

Compulsory competitive tendering is non-discriminatory and I have no intention of going down that path. I reassure the hon. Lady that the value for money that is emerging has nothing to do with sex.

Mr. Squire

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, contrary to the views expressed by the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo), his independent review of the operation of CCT included statements from the chief executive of a Labour authority that compulsory competitive tendering had created a much more efficient and slimmer organisation and had highlighted inefficiencies that it had not previously seen? Is not the real answer that on this issue, as on so many others, the Labour party is in thrall to the public sector trade unions?

Mr. Key

Yes, I could not have put it better myself.

Mr. O'Brien

The report published by the Department of the Environment, to which the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) referred, giving the findings of the Institute of Local Government Studies at Birmingham university on the first year of competitive tendering in local government only adds to the confusion that the Government have created about the role of local government in providing services to poll tax payers. There is no reference in the report to the quality of services to be provided under the competitive tendering procedure. Is not it time that the Government stopped messing about with the provision of local government services and delayed any further introduction of compulsory competitive tendering until the procedures and the quality of services have been resolved?

Mr. Key

No. It is astonishing that the hon. Gentleman insists on looking backwards whenever we have questions in the House. The report has informed the Government's policies and if he would be so kind as to read the consultation paper, which we issued only yesterday, he would find that a quality threshold is specifically included in the extension of CCT to services such as architecture.

Mr. Summerson

While my hon. Friend is doing his best to persuade Labour councils of the virtues of competitive tendering will he point out to them that the provision of services to community charge payers is for the benefit of the entire local community and that it is not merely to provide a multiplicity of overblown, unproductive jobs in town halls?

Mr. Key

Yes, that is entirely the point. One of the advantages that Ministers gain in visiting a large number of local authorities of all shades of political opinion across the country is to learn of the unanimity of opinion that compulsory competitive tendering is good for the charge payers and for the recipients of services and that it is also good for the career structures of many of the jobs that go with it. It would be retrograde to go back on that.