HL Deb 19 July 1983 vol 443 cc1041-4

2.57 p.m.

Lord Gainford

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many staff were employed by local authorities in May 1979 and how many staff are currently employed.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, figures taken from the Joint Manpower Watch Surveys show that a total of 2,968,942 full-time and part-time staff were employed in local authorities in Great Britian in June 1979. The comparable figure for March 1983 was 2,862,248; this represents a fall of 3.6 per cent. over the period.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. Arising from it, may I ask whether he has information as to the areas of England and Wales in which the local authorities are producing the greatest reductions of staff? Also, are Her Majesty's Government satisfied with the figures?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, responding to my noble friend's second supplementary question first, I may say that the Government are not totally satisfied with the reduction. The overall rate has been slowing down recently and we believe that there is scope for further reduction to reverse this tendency. One would be looking to all local authorities to continue their efforts to economise. I do not have figures available to me this afternoon indicating particular areas where the economies are shown to be the greatest. There are wide variances up and down the country. There are some singularly effective reductions in some non-metropolitan and some metropolitan areas, but there is no general pattern with regard to the geography of the country.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, would not the Minister agree that extra work has been put on local authorities?—for instance, the administration of the unified housing benefit scheme, and mortgage interest relief at source. Are not local authorities now responsible for statutory sick pay; and has there not been an increase in the police force? Also, is there not a great deal of work to be done by the officials concerned with the problems of youth unemployment? In those circumstances, would not the Minister agree that the local authorities have made a magnificent effort?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, I have to say that precise information is not available with regard to the change in staff as a result of Government initiatives, but the numbers involved are such that they do not significantly affect the general long-term trend. We still believe there is considerable scope for local authorities to reduce manpower to the levels needed to meet the Government's expenditure targets.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether it is not more important that the Government should pay attention to the needs of the people served by local authorities, who are not getting the services they need today because of the Government's cuts and the Government's desire to cut back on staff?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

No, my Lords, I cannot agree with the statement underlying the question of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. Inefficiency and over-manning are no basis for sound long-term planning, or indeed long-term employment opportunities. This is where there are difficulties. Seventy per cent. of local authority expenditure is concerned with manpower. The Government have an overriding responsibility to set the targets—the framework—and it is within that framework that the local authorities have to work. It is their responsibility in their area.

Lord Renton

My Lords, while I share my noble friend's view that there is scope for further reduction overall in local authority staff, is he able to give your Lordships an assurance that the staff necessary to implement the Civil Defence regulations—the new ones, when they are approved by both Houses of Parliament—will be available?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I have no reason to suppose that adequate staff will not be available to undertake those tasks.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that, although the very terms "local government" and "local authority" are cold ones, they make the most massive contribution to a civilised society in which Great Britain has given the lead—

Noble Lords


Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the term "local authority" embraces housing, health, care for the aged, care for the blind, care for the sick, and so on? Is it not disgraceful that the Government should feel that it is an achievement to cut down the number of people working in these services so that they can contribute to the number unemployed?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, in response to the last question of the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, I have to say, No. In response to his earlier question, of course I am quite sure that all noble Lords in this House—and particularly noble Lords on this side of the House—are very well aware of what a local authority or local government has to do. It has to look after the people in particular areas. But that is no good reason for certain local authorities moving outside the general bounds of good management and it is the Government's job to set down those general bounds. One should not forget that it is business, commerce and manufacturing industries which provide the wealth to meet the services. They cannot provide that wealth when they are burdened down with an inefficient and over-expensive local government or local authority.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is it not the case that if the Government could persuade local authorities to get rid of another 1 million people, they could get the unemployment figure up to 5 million? Would that satisfy the Government and their noble friends?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, if I may say so with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that really is a red herring. I have answered earlier that inefficiency and overmanning are no substitute for good management, and it must be for the wealth-creating industries to have opportunities to create the job opportunities.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there are many of us on this side of the House who are just as keen as he is on eliminating inefficiency and overmanning? But can he not see that just cutting out a service and thereby cutting down the staff has absolutely no effect on the inefficiency or otherwise of the remainder of the staff? Can he also understand that, if a service is contracted out, it is possible to show that there is a big reduction in staff without, again, any effect at all on the efficiency or otherwise of the service?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, makes a very valid point. However, experience suggests that he is not correct in that assumption.

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