§ 5. Mr. Harry Greenway
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many people are estimated to be currently employed in local government in Scotland; in how many local authorities they are operating and at what overall cost per head of the population of Scotland; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Greenway
What does it have to do with me? The English are paying for it—partly, anyway. That is a fact. My constituents are partly paying for it. Why does local government in Scotland cost so much, when, presumably, wage costs there are a little lower than they might be in London, where I have my constituency? Why does it involve so many people at such a high cost? Why do we have senseless demands for a Parliament for Scotland, which would impose even more government—another layer at even greater costs—on Scotland?
§ Mr. Lang
My hon. Friend makes some sound points. One must ask why, when there are constraints on public expenditure and local authorities should be considering the burden that they impose on council tax payers, staff numbers have been increased by 2,500—about 1 per cent. —in the past year, when in England, local government staff numbers have been reduced by 2 per cent.
§ Mr. Michael J. Martin
The Minister will know that, because of all the redundancies in the traditional engineering works in and around Glasgow, local authorities have become an important source of employment. I hope that he will not use the new reorganisation of local government to sack local authority workers.
§ Mr. Lang
Decisions about the employment levels of local authority staff are a matter for local authorities. While I anticipate that there will be some saving from the 300,000 and more people employed in local authorities, it would be a relatively small saving. The hon. Gentleman makes a fundamental mistake in pretending that employment in a local authority offers the same productive contribution to the wealth of a nation and the output of its economy as employment in private industry—there is a world of difference. The taxes generated by the profits of the private sector sustain the bureaucracies in the public sector.
§ Mr. Raymond S. Robertson
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the real threat to local government services and jobs in Scotland comes not from our plans for reorganisation, but from plans for a tax-raising Scottish Assembly? If it is to have a meaningful role in the life of the nation, the Assembly will take powers from the House and plunder town halls and council chambers throughout Scotland, taking away their powers to centralise them in Edinburgh. Does my right hon. Friend 345 agree that anyone who believes in strong, responsive, sensitive and genuinely local democracy should join us in opposing Labour's plans?
§ Mr. Lang
My hon. Friend is right. At a time when the Government have been seeking to reduce bureaucracy and simplify local government by introducing a single-tier structure, the Labour party is bent on creating another centralising Parliament in Edinburgh that will increase bureaucracy and the burden of administration and centralise power from local government to Edinburgh.
§ Mr. Wallace
Given that the Secretary of State used the increase in local government employment as one reason for imposing an unjustified and unacceptable squeeze on local authority funding in the forthcoming year and given that he seems to be well armed with figures, will he answer the following question? How much of the increase that he mentioned will be accounted for, first, by the number of people employed in full and part-time work to clear up the mess of the poll tax and implement the council tax and secondly, by the increase in the number of staff employed in social work departments to implement the Government's community care policy?
§ Mr. Lang
There is no reason why the number of staff employed in local government should be increased to clear up the backlog of uncollected poll tax. That should have been cleared up substantially in previous years.
Central services alone increased by almost 5 per cent. last year in Scotland. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), there has been a 9 per cent. increase in the number of full-time staff. Such increases bear no relation to the needs of the local electorate and they take no account of the burden that they impose on council tax payers.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the increase in the number of jobs in local government is nothing more than jobs for the boys and another example of loony government spending?
§ Mr. Lang
If the House will not accept my hon. Friend's word, perhaps it will accept the word of Mr. Leo McKinstry, a former Labour councillor in Islington, who last week wrote in The Spectator:The electors can be warned now of things to come under Labour. They need look no further than the present record of Labour in local government".
§ Mr. Graham
Will not the Secretary of State do the right thing and congratulate the local authority workers who responded to the flooding in Scotland? If they had not been there, our folk would have suffered a tragedy because of the inaction of the Scottish Office.
§ Mr. Lang
That is unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. I congratulate all those who took part in the emergency services operation following the flooding in Scotland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in congratulating them and also those in local and central Government who have done so much to ease the problems arising from that emergency.
§ Mr. McAllion
Will the Secretary of State try to understand that the higher levels of spending and employment in Scottish local government reflect the higher levels of social deprivation and illness in our country; they reflect the outstanding success of local 346 authority schools in Scotland; and, above all, they reflect the increasing burdens that the Secretary of State has placed on Scottish councils, with 65 per cent. of the 2,500 staff to whom he referred employed in the areas of social work and policing?
If the right hon. Gentleman is genuinely concerned about the comparisons between Scotland and England, will he explain why, for the past two and a half years, he has refused to take up the offer by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to commission jointly an independent study into those comparisons? Is he afraid of the truth and the light that the study may shed on the prejudiced hysteria that passes for Government policy in this area? It is time to put up or shut up. Will the Minister accept COSLA's offer and put an end to the political poison levelled against Scottish local government?