§ 2.53 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ How many staff are now employed by local authorities in England and Wales; and what was the comparable figure in 1979.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, local authorities in England employed around 1,883,000 full-time equivalents in June of this year compared with around 1,975,000 in 1979. I understand from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales that local authority employment there fell from 129,000 to 123,000 full-time equivalents over the same period.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that interesting Answer. Can he say whether the downward tendency is continuing?
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, a large part of the decrease has been due to substantial transfers of staff away from the local authority sector. We like to think that part of the decrease is due to local authorities becoming more efficient. We believe that there is still room for improvement and we hope that the trend will continue.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that, although there may have been gains in efficiency as a result of constant financial pressure on local authorities, there have been great strains and in many cases damage to the 854 communities which they serve, especially in the older industrial areas?
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, can my noble friend say whether his first Answer was based upon the number of people in posts or upon the establishment of the councils? Is he aware that many local authorities are now having great difficulty in recruiting officers?
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the enforcement of government policies on many local authorities has created difficulties for them, and that the net result of the reduction in their staff has meant that they have contributed to the massive unemployment figures which the Government have created?
§ Lord Ross of Newport
My Lords, in addition to the shortage of teachers, does the Minister accept that there is an acute shortage of qualified planning officers, who have been inundated with applications of one kind or another over the past three or four years? What do the Government have in mind to help local authorities over that problem?
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, can the Minister say what effect the introduction of the poll tax has had on those figures?
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, we accept that the introduction of the community charge has led to an increase in the number of staff employed by local authorities. However, we believe that the additional cost associated with the charge will be far outweighed by the benefits following the greater accountability that it will bring.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, it is not clear whether the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, or the Government are taking credit for what they appear to be claiming to be an advance. If it is the case that there has been a reduction in the number of local government officers, can the Minister tell us what has been the increase in the number of pages of local government legislation passed by this Government which must be enforced by local authorities?