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Local Government Reorganisation

Volume 890: debated on Monday 14 April 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales what estimate he has made of the extent to which the recent local government reorganisation has resulted in increased efficiency and better services, or any other advantages; and if he will make a statement.

Reorganisation has been in effect for little more than a year and it is premature to make an assessment of this kind.

Does not the Minister agree that many people in Wales are dissatisfied with the local government reorganisation that took place last year? Will he consider doing away with the county councils in their present form and reverting to the multi-purpose authority, under the old county boundaries? Is he aware that many people in Wales are worried in case we have an executive assembly with executive powers only, in Wales, which would mean that we should have another tier of government in Wales without legislative power?

I have made my position quite clear about this on previous occasions. The creation of the Welsh Assembly is not in any sense an additional tier of local government. It is bringing central Government closer to the people. I have no plans to change the present two-tier system of local government.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Labour Party proposed that local government reorganisation should have waited until Kilbrandon had reported and we had taken the constitutionally important measure to bring about devolution? We might then have had a different form of local government reorganisation in Wales, which would not have been as bureaucratic as it appears at present, and the additional Government tier would not have involved the increased costs about which people are beginning to complain?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that, regrettably and unhappily, the previous Conservative Government tackled the whole issue in the wrong way. They should have settled the issue of the Assembly first and then gone on to local government. However, having said that, the present local government arrangement—whether popular or unpopular—has enormous difficulties already, in terms of carrying out day-to-day functions. I have no plans to interfere with that.

Is it not a fact that in the 10 years prior to reorganisation there was an increase of about 48 per cent. in the number of people employed in local government in England and Wales and that, therefore, we should not put all the blame upon reorganisation but should now give it the opportunity to work efficiently and effectively? Is it not right, therefore, that the emphasis should be placed on cutting central Government and local government expenditure wherever that is possible?

I have noted the hon. Gentleman's remarks about cutting expenditure generally. I have made it quite clear to local authorities that they must exercise the greatest possible restraint in their public expenditure commitments. I make that clear again. As regards staff numbers, this matter is being monitored, and we have told local authorities that they must limit their increases to those needed only for inescapable commitments. I make my position abundantly clear on this occasion again.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend publish the comparative figures of the numbers of people employed in local government pre-reorganisation and post-reorganisation and warn those, in various parts of Wales, who are anxious to cut back on the number of officers of the dangers of such activity?

Unhappily, this clear and unassailable comparison is not easily made. I have to consider the position as I see it at present and to monitor and ensure that there is no further increase in local government staffs, save for those to deal with inescapable commitments.