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Civil Service Unions (Meeting)

Volume 35: debated on Wednesday 19 January 1983

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45.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what subjects he proposes to discuss at his next meeting with trade union representatives of the Civil Service.

Plans for my next meeting with the Civil Service unions have not yet been made.

Will the Minister discuss the need to improve staffing levels, especially in the Department of Health and Social Security and in employment offices, so that a better standard of service can be provided to the increasing number of unemployed who must often queue for ages for the payment of benefit to which they are entitled? Why is there a shortage of staff to help the unemployed, while extra staff seem to be recruited to special investigation squads that simply hound and harass the unemployed?

Extra staff have been employed both in unemployment benefit offices and in the DHSS, but the detailed arrangements are the direct responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Has progress been made in the consideration of no-strike contracts in the public service?

My hon. Friend may remember that those matters were dealt with in the Megan commission report. He will also know that negotiations with the unions on the basis of the recommendations of that report are now starting.

When the Minister meets the trade unions, will he discuss the unfortunate position whereby civil servants cannot take complaints to the ombudsman? One example is the recent case in my constituency of Mr. Alastair Dewar, where there was an admitted failure by the Department. Mr. Dewar asked the ombudsman to consider his case, but the ombudsman could not do so. Does that not restrict the civil rights of some of our citizens by not allowing them to make complaints to the ombudsman?

I am prepared to discuss the matter with the unions if they so request, and I shall examine the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

When the Minister meets the unions, how will he reconcile his assurance that there will be genuine negotiations in this year's pay round with the Government's even stronger commitment to a 3½ per cent. cash limit? Will he admit to the House that the Government are operating an incomes policy for the Civil Service and that since the previous pay comparison in 1980, whereas prices have risen by 32 per cent., Civil Service pay has risen by 14 per cent., which is a shortfall of 18 per cent.?

The Government have made it clear, for this year's pay negotiations with the Civil Service, that the 3½ per cent. figure is part of the public expenditure planning process for this year. The Government believe that to be a reasonable provision. Rateable inflation is already much lower than it was at this time last year. There is no reason why the announcement of the 3½ per cent. figure should preclude genuine negotiations. It is neither a pay norm nor an entitlement.