HC Deb 29 January 1996 vol 270 cc634-5
9. Mr. Martlew

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on morale in the civil service. [9987]

Mr. Willetts

Morale in the civil service is best maintained by allowing staff to perform to the best of their abilities in the career that they have chosen. This Government's civil service reforms enable staff to focus their attention on delivering high-quality public services. That is the best way of satisfying them and the users of their services.

Mr. Martlew

Surely the Minister is being complacent. Does he not realise that civil servants' morale has been sapped because of Government changes? The Government have created a climate of insecurity. Does not the Minister agree with Sir Robin Butler, head of the civil service, who wrote that in an article in The Observer recently?

Mr. Willetts

The Government have a fine record of reforming the civil service. Inevitably, nobody nowadays can be offered a job for life but, as my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister explained in a speech last week, we have a fine record and we are pursuing our reform agenda.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my hon. Friend tell the House what has happened to the numbers in the civil service? Sometimes people outside suspect that one party in the House is more interested in jobs for the boys than in getting value for money for the taxpayer.

Mr. Willetts

There were 735,000 civil servants in 1979 and there are now 506,000 civil servants. The number will go below 500,000 this year, and that shows that the Government are serious about cutting overhead costs.

Mr. Derek Foster

What is the Minister's response to Sir Robin Butler's charge that low morale and the climate of insecurity are caused by perpetual reorganisation imposed by Tory Government? Has not morale plummeted further because of the Deputy Prime Minister's scorched earth policy in pursuing privatisation to ludicrous lengths, for example with Her Majesty's Stationery Office and the Recruitment and Assessment Services Agency, which has been so roundly condemned by Lords Bancroft and Hunt?

Mr. Willetts

We published a White Paper in 1994 on the civil service called "The Civil Service—Continuity and Change", which made it clear that the Government are committed to a high-quality civil service that will also be smaller and more committed to numeracy and technical skills. Many civil servants welcome the reform agenda that the Government are pursuing.

We expect improvement and reduction in overhead costs in the private sector and there is no reason why the Government should not ensure that their house matches the quality of service in the private sector. That is what we are doing.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

What would happen to the morale of a civil service team if the deputy leader of that team was left out of all considerations and discussions because he was thought not to be intellectually up to it?

Mr. Willetts

I dread to think what would happen to the civil service in the event of a Labour Government, and especially what would happen if the personal press officer of the Leader of the Opposition were put in charge of the Government's information service.