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Civil Service

Volume 981: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1980

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Non-Industrial Civil Servants

59.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he has any longer-term plans to reduce the total number of non-industrial civil servants by a fixed amount over a specific period.

I refer my hon. Friend to the statement I made in the House on 6 December. I then announced savings of 39,000 posts; of these some 28,000 will be non-industrial. There are further studies going on in a number of Departments which will result in savings, and, in addition, I told the House on 14 March that there would be a further 2½ per cent. additional saving in manpower costs in 1980–81.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the annual turnover among non-industrial civil servants is currently running at 11½ per cent? If that is the figure, is it not true that the numbers of non-industrial civil servants, if Parliament so willed it, could be reduced sub- stantially without causing redundancies or forced resignations? If that is so, will my right hon. Friend encourage a national debate about how many civil servants we should have?

My hon. Friend is broadly right. Wastage is approximately 11 per cent. The approximate figures are 8 per cent. wastage and 3 per cent. retirement. I confirm that savings of the kind that I have announced can be achieved, I hope, with few redundancies. We are certainly not looking for redundancies.

Is the Minister aware of a reply I received from the Treasury on Monday which indicates huge reductions in staff in the Inland Revnue? Is it not an interesting reflection on the priorities of this Government that they are employing 1,000 additional social security snoopers whereas the number of people available to tackle the much greater problem of tax evasion is being seriously reduced?

I am sure that the House would like to see fewer people employed both in the Inland Revenue and in the Department of Health and Social Security.

In that case there is a difference of opinion between the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and me —not for the first time. I am glad to tell the House that the latest figures show that the Department of Health and Social Security employs 3,000 fewer staff than last year. The hon. Member's question is therefore based on a false premise.

When the Minister next examines the long-term plans for making savings in the Civil Service will he, in the light of the answers he gave to a question about the numbers of Government information officers, bear in mind that there has been no shrinkage, either in the number or the salaries of those information officers? The only shrinkage has been in the amount of information that has come forth.

I noted what the hon. Member says and I shall discuss it with those of my colleagues who are principally responsible.

Notwithstanding the excellent reply that my hon. Friend gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), will he take his suggestion seriously? Is it not the case that in this, as in other spheres, there is something to be said for a long-term target, if only as a check on the activities of the Government?

I am against long-term targets because I believe that it is better to proceed in specific areas in an attempt to get numbers down. However, both my hon. Friends have a point and I will reexamine it.

In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) may I ask the Minister whether it is not time that the Government stopped using the Civil Service as a scapegoat for all their ills? Will the Minister give a straight answer to a simple question? If the Civil Service staff side unions accepted the 14 per cent. pay offer made to them, within the cash limits, would that mean no additional cuts in the Civil Service?

It is not true that the Government are making the Civil Service a scapegoat. I am doing my utmost to achieve the smaller Civil Service which I believe is in the national interest and also in the long-term interest of the Civil Service, while at the same time trying not to damage any individual. I believe that a reduction in the size of the Civil Service is a high national priority and we are working towards that.

Civil Servants (Car Allowances)

60.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what estimate he makes of the total annual car allowance payments to civil servants.

Separate records of this are not kept centrally. In the circumstances, the best estimate that can be made is about £50 million. I have recently asked for a study to be made of the whole question.

Will the Minister follow the lead set by General Zia of Pakistan who has issued his entire Cabinet with bicycles? Will the Minister encourage civil servants to travel around inner urban areas by bicycle rather than by car since a great deal of public money can be saved in that way? Will the Minister set an example next week by telling his Private Office that he will be pedalling with them on a tandem?

I am reluctant to do that because the Government are not anxious to face another by-election in Southend at present. I had not thought of taking General Zia as an example for the Civil Service but I shall consult my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Hurd). I am sure that all those who can bicycle —that does not include me—will do so whenever possible so that they are fitter and thus better equipped for the tasks of the day.

When the Minister examines the position will he note that top civil servants, the permanent secretaries in Whitehall, use chauffeur-driven cars to take them to Victoria Station and to Charing Cross station when buses and taxis stop outside their offices? Could not those civil servants take a bus instead of using Government cars?

When I discusssed this matter with some of the younger members of the Civil Service it was their keen wish that all senior permanent secretaries should use bicycles, on the ground that there would be more rapid promotion for them. When my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) spoke of a tandem I did not know that he had the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) in mind as my companion.

Civil Service Posts (Northern Region)

61.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many Civil Service posts have been transferred to the Northern region since May 1979.

Information about posts transferred to the Northern region for management reasons is not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

The Minister knows that there have not been any transfers. Is that not another example of the vendetta being carried out by this Government against the Northern region? Does the Minister recall the transfers proposed by the previous Government which included the PSA headquarters to Middlesbrough and Government Chemist's Laboratory to Cumbria? Those plans were stopped by this Government. Will the Minister say what consideration is being given to the transfer of such posts? Does he not realise that there is a crying need for that kind of employment in the Northern region? Will the Minister reopen consideration of the transfer of Civil Service work to the North?

I should be misleading the House if I offered any prospect of reopening the dispersal issue at this stage. After a great deal of study we changed decisions last July. I told the hon. Member that there were post transfers for management reasons and that that was why I could not give him the figures for which he asked. We considered the transfer of the PSA to Middlesbrough and the Laboratory of the Government Chemist to West Cumbria with great care. The net Exchequer cost of those two moves during the next four or five years would be more than £40 million. It was impossible to justify the moves on that ground alone.

Does my hon. Friend see any purpose in moving jobs from London to the North at such great expense when there is unemployment in London?

That is one of the factors to be borne in mind. We have to take into account the costs and benefits of any move. In the Northern region there is a large number of Civil Service posts already. In fact in the North there are more Civil Service posts than in most parts of the country.

Following upon that, how many Civil Service posts are likely to be transferred away from, or otherwise lost in the Northern region in pursuance of the Government's policies?

In pursuance of obtaining a smaller Civil Service in general I have no reason to suppose that there will be any untoward loss in the Northern region compared with any other region. I see no reason to assume that is would not be broadly—I cannot give the exact figure—across the board.

Will the Minister now answer the question which he blatantly evaded when I asked him earlier? If the staff side unions accept 14 per cent. within the cash limits, will the Government give an assurance that there will be no additional staff cuts? If not, why not?

First, I am not prepared to negotiate Civil Service pay across this Box. That is a matter between the unions and the official side. It is not a matter to be debated between the two sides of the House. I do not believe that that is the way to carry out pay negotiations and neither would the Opposition if they were in power.

Offers have been made to the Civil Service unions. We have set them within a cash limit of 14 per cent. I believe that it is right on its merits that there should be a smaller Civil Service. That is something that the Government are working towards.