HL Deb 06 December 1989 vol 513 cc853-5

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 communities which they serve, especially in the older industrial areas?

Lord Reay

My Lords, it is up to local authorities to make the best use of their resources within the total amount of money available.

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 Reay

My Lords, I am aware that there are shortages in some sectors. For example, the Government acknowledge that there are shortages of teachers in some areas and subjects and that there are different trends within the overall trend, which has been a decline.

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 Reay

My Lords, no, I do not accept that at all. The charge that the Government have created unemployment cannot be maintained.

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 Reay

My Lords, I am afraid that I have no information about the shortage of planning officers. I shall make inquiries and let the noble Lord know the result.

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?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I do not have figures on the number of pages of legislation, either for the more recent period or a more distant one.