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Civil Service

Volume 21: debated on Wednesday 7 April 1982

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Services (Quality And Volume)

42.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what studies have been made under the direction of Sir Derek Rayner of the opportunities for investment in improving the quality and volume of services offered by the Civil Service; and what recommendations have been made to that end.

All the studies carried out in association with Sir Derek Rayner have been concerned with improving the way in which work is done. In general, they have shown the need for streamlining procedures and cutting out unnecessary work and some of the studies have recommended investment in, for example, office accommodation and computerisation.

Does the Minister recognise the low morale that exists among many public employees, who are fed up with constant sniping and attacks from the Government side of the House and with further financial cuts at a time when an improvement of services is needed? Since improvements in services are just as important as cost efficiency, will he ensure that more emphasis is placed on improving the quality of working conditions and the services that are offered to the people?

I have indicated in my answer that Sir Derek Rayner, in his reviews, has always paid attention to the improvement of working conditions as well as to improved procedures. We want both efficiency and more effectiveness.

Will my hon. Friend recognise that many Conservative Members congratulate Sir Derek Rayner on the efforts that he has made and the considerable service that he has contributed to the country? Does he agree that, ultimately, an efficient and effective Civil Service is in the best interests of those working in the Civil Service?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that Sir Derek Rayner would be the first to acknowledge that the work that has been done and that is attached to his name has been carried out in the main by members of the Civil Service. It is their devotion and dedication to duty that has given the good results.

Efficiency And Effectiveness

43.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if she will make a statement on the response to the report of the Treasury and Civil Service Committee on efficiency and effectiveness in the Civil Service.

45.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service is she will make a statement on the efficiency of the Civil Service central departments.

The Government are giving this wide-ranging report the closest attention. A full reply, including our response to the recommendations on the role of the central departments, will be made in due course.

Has my hon. Friend noted the reports that the Committee made about the MINIS arrangment, developed within the Department of the Environment? Has he also noticed that the Committee was completely unconvinced by evidence that it received from other Departments to the effect that the MINIS operation did not happen to be suitable for the particular Department, for one reason or another?

Yes, I have noted what the Committee had to say on the matter. I believe that every Department should have a management information system appropriate to the functions and needs of the Department concerned.

As a major employer with a branch in Northampton has been forced by the recession to reduce his labour force by 40 per cent. yet is still able to produce the same output as before, and as he is concerned about the overheads that he has to bear from central and local government, does my hon. Friend believe that a 40 per cent. reduction in Civil Service central departments would be a useful target? What does he believe we could achieve if we could do that?

The Prime Minister has set a target for reducing the size of the Civil Service to its lowest level since the end of the war. The target to be achieved is 630,000 by April 1984. I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating all those concerned on seeing that we are absolutely on course for that target.

Does not the Select Committee recommendation that the Government should pay more attention to effectiveness than to the narrower issue of manpower numbers really put in another way what the Opposition have been saying since the Government came to office, that the cuts being made are often at the expense of essential services to the most needy groups in our society?

No. I presume that the Select Committee said what it meant to say. That interpretation cannot be read out of the recommendations that it made. It is necessary to increase efficiency, improve cost-effectiveness and give better value for money in the Civil Service.

As a contribution to improving the efficiency of the Civil Service, will my hon. Friend consider the possibility of including on the confidential report form a section that allows an assessment of an individual officer's effectiveness in conserving the use of public resources?

Changes are being made to the annual confidential report form. Managerial ability and concern about cost-effectiveness ought to be reflected in an individual's annual report.

Is not this reduction in the Civil Service being carried out in the manner of wielding a blunderbuss?

Is not the Minister ashamed that he has placed on the dole 26 civil servants working for the export film unit of the COI? This film unit has won international prizes. The reward is that its members are put on the dole by the Minister, due to the blunderbuss approach that he has chosen to use. Is the Minister aware that these civil servants do not fall within the terms that the Prime Minister has used and that they deserve better treatment? Will he institute an inquiry to see whether they are cost-effective, which they believe to be the case?

The hon. Gentleman, who, along with one of his hon. Friends, came with a deputation from the union concerned, knows, if he understands the facts of the matter, that what he says is not true. What is happening will be cost-effective. It will accord with good managerial considerations. I believe that the union concerned would be better employed in ceasing to misrepresent the facts of the matter.

Recruitment

44.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service how recruitment to the lower-paid grades of the Civil Service in 1981 compares with the previous year.

The provisional figure for the number of new entrants in 1981 to the non-industrial Home Civil Service in grades at clerical officer, or equivalent, and below, was 29,500. This compares with 43,500 in 1980.

Is the Minister aware of a sense of injustice and a lowering of morale among the lower-paid grades of the Civil Service resulting from the higher percentage pay offer to higher-paid grades than to lower-paid grades? Will he ensure that the lower-paid grades, especially hard working staff in social security and unemployment benefit offices, get a much more substantial increase than will the mandarins in Whitehall?

The hon. Gentleman will know, as he follows these matters, that the issue has now gone to arbitration. I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to comment upon it. My own experience of some of the lower grades in the Civil Service is that they are glad to have the security of a Civil Service job.

Does my hon. Friend agree that irrespective of recruitment to the lower-paid grades, there might be some vacancies soon—bearing in mind the present situation—among the higher grades?

The reductions taking place across the Civil Service are occurring at all levels. The open structure—the three most senior grades in the Civil Service—is bearing its share of the reductions.

In view of the critical situation in the Falklands, does the hon. Gentleman expect that we shall need more, or fewer, civil servants in the Ministry of Defence?

I presume that the hon. Gentleman is trying to pre-empt the debate that is to follow. I suggest that he waits for that debate.