HC Deb 09 December 1996 vol 287 cc7-8
7. Sir David Knox

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many civil servants were employed by the Government and by Government agencies at the latest available date; and what was the figure in May 1979. [6501]

Mr. Willetts

When my hon. Friend asked me that question a year ago, the answer was that there were 506,000 civil servants—a reduction since 1979 of 31 per cent. There are now 487,000 civil servants—a reduction since 1979 of 34 per cent.

Sir David Knox

That is a very creditable achievement. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that there has been no deterioration in the service as a result of those reductions?

Mr. Willetts

I am satisfied that there has been no deterioration in the service. Indeed, in many sectors our rigorous measuring of performance quality has raised the standard of service and recently we celebrated the improvements at the chartermark ceremony.

Mr. Foulkes

Is it not therefore ironic that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his Budget speech that there would be additional appointments in Customs and Excise, the Health and Safety Executive and other areas, which he described as a "spend to save" package? Does that not show that over the past 17 years cuts have resulted in catastrophe?

Mr. Willetts

The Budget's "spend to save" package was an important part of the Chancellor's programme for securing Government revenues, but it does not alter the fact that the Government are committed to reducing the size of the civil service while ensuring the highest possible standards of service to individual customers.

Mr. Congdon

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way of ensuring that the taxpayer receives value for money for services provided by the Government is to test those services in the marketplace? Will he assure the House that the Government will press on full speed ahead to ensure that all aspects of Government are so tested and that there is less waste, therefore, in Government services?

Mr. Willetts

My hon. Friend is correct. Market testing is an important way of holding down civil service running costs. In a previous debate, the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) announced that the Labour party would suspend all competing for quality initiatives—a spending pledge of £200 million per year, as those are the extra annual savings from our programme.