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Civil Service Posts (Northern Region)

Volume 981: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1980

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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.