HL Deb 06 December 1979 vol 403 cc871-2

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to make a Statement about the Government's review of the size and cost of the Civil Service.

We undertook this review for three main reasons. First, we believe that it is in the national interest to reduce the role of Government. Secondly, at a time when public expenditure as a whole has to be restrained, it is right that there should be a contribution from central Government administration. Thirdly, it is essential to examine any large organisation, public or private, from time to time and prune those activities which may have been undertaken for good reasons, but which are now less necessary.

This is a report on the progress that we have made so far. All Ministers have conducted an initial examination of the activities of their departments to identify the savings which can be made, whether by increased efficiency or by the abolition or curtailment of functions. As a result, we will be making savings right across the Civil Service. The scope for this varies between departments. At one end of the scale, the Department of Transport has identified savings amounting to some 18 per cent. In other departments the scope is much smaller, but even in the fields of law and order and defence, to which, as the House knows, the Government attach a particularly high priority, some valuable savings will be made.

This review will lead to annual savings in Civil Service staff costs of about £212 million, most of which will be achieved by the financial year 1982–83. The net effect on public expenditure will however be less than this because some of the savings will come from putting work, which will have to be paid for, out to the private sector. In terms of staff numbers, the savings total some 40,000. This is in addition to the steps we have already taken to reduce expenditure on Civil Service manpower this year, saving some 20,000 posts, making 60,000 in all. The Government's aim will be as far as practicable to secure the reductions by natural wastage.

The savings that will be made by departments as a result of the decisions I am announcing today will be shown in general terms in a table in the Official Report, and copies are available in the Printed Paper Office. Details of the savings are of course the responsibility of the departmental Ministers concerned.

These are the savings which it has been possible to identify reasonably quickly by examining a series of options across the Civil Service as a whole. The next stage will include a number of policy studies in some departments, such as the Department of Health and Social Security, and reviews of activities already set in progress, particularly in the Ministry of Defence and the Department of the Environment.

The search for greater economy and efficiency will of course go on throughout the lifetime of this Parliament. All Ministers will continue to keep the work of their departments under close scrutiny and the House will be kept informed of progress from time to time. Sir Derek Rayner will assist in particular projects to improve efficiency and get better value for money.

I will not try to predict the future size of the Civil Service, but we have reversed the major expansion which took place under the last Government. Our predecessors planned for a Civil Service of 748,000 by April next year. The numbers now stand at 712,000. As a result of our scrutiny, though there may be short-term fluctuations, the general trend from now on will continue downwards.

The size of the Civil Service must always depend upon the duties that the Government of the day ask it to undertake. The fact that this Government set out to identify areas in which the range of work can be narrowed, and to improve the efficiency with which the rest of the work is done, is no reflection on the conscientiousness and ability with which civil servants at all levels have carried out the tasks they have been given. I am glad to pay tribute to these qualities, as I am sure is the whole House.

The aforementioned table is as follows: