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Civil Service

Volume 35: debated on Wednesday 19 January 1983

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Civil Service Unions (Meeting)


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.

Efficiency And Effectiveness (White Paper)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service what role the Management and Personnel Office is playing in assisting other Departments in preparing responses to the White Paper on efficiency and effectiveness in the Civil Service.

As explained in the White Paper, the Management and Personnel Office is directing the financial management initiative jointly with the Treasury. MPO staff are fully involved in the joint steering machinery, which has issued guidance to Departments and which will examine the responses. The MPO is also helping Departments directly through the joint MPO/Treasury financial management unit, and has directed the 1982 review of running costs, the report of which will be available shortly.

In the direct assistance that the financial management unit is giving to Departments, can my hon. Friend confirm that special importance is attached to ensuring that Departments have proper management information and accounting systems? Is that not much more important than the rest of the financial management initiative?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the two matters to which he referred. I also welcome the constructive comments and encouragement in my hon. Friend's recent Bow group memoranda, which dealt with many of those matters.

Is the Minister aware that the real test of efficiency and effectiveness is what the public think about a service and the effect of that service on the public? Is he aware that, for example in my constituency, staff at the DHSS office has been reduced by three while the work load has increased by 50 per cent., thus hurting many people, especially claimants, in Swindon? Will he try to ensure that the Civil Service is effective at the point of use?

As I explained in answer to an earlier question, the details of DHSS offices are clearly a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I do not agree that one should exclude cost effectiveness and value for taxpayers' money from considerations of efficiency in the Civil Service.

When replying to the White Paper, will the hon. Gentleman, as a Treasury Minister, outline how many of the savings claimed by Treasury Note 5 to the Select Committee have been lost to the Government in the form of tax that is no longer collected, national insurance contributions that are no longer collected, unemployment benefit that is paid to those who have been left in the dole queue instead of being recruited to fill the vacancies, and payments that are made to contractors who are carrying out the work that was previously done by civil servants? Is it not true that the net saving to the Government is a minute fraction of that which the Government claim?

I repudiate that statement. The reduction in civil servants has meant a net saving to the Government of about £½ billion a year on the pay bill, which is a substantial sum. Although extra expenditure is involved in some privatisation arrangements, overall the entire exercise has been good value for the taxpayer.

Ethnic Monitoring


asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he expects to publish volume II of the survey in Leeds on ethnic monitoring in the Civil Service.

The results of the job applicant part of the Leeds survey, which ran from 1 May to 30 September last year, should be ready for publication in March.

Does the Minister recognise the great urgency with which the work should be completed, along with the approval of the CRE code on ethnic monitoring, which awaits the approval of the Secretary of State for Employment, and the need for safeguards against misuse of the information, as recommended by the Select Committee on Employment? Will he assure the House that he is receiving the full support not only of the unions but of all communities such as those in Leeds and Leicester, where community relations have been remarkably good, although the ethnic minorities are very large?

I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that the work carried out in the Leeds survey followed consultation with the unions and was carried out in cooperation with them and with their full support. The code of practice issued by the Commission for Racial Equality is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, who hopes to announce his decision on the matter soon. I agree with what the hon. and learned Gentleman said about the necessity to safeguard the confidentiality of information collected as a result of ethnic surveys and to ensure that it is not improperly used.

I am pleased to hear the Minister's reply. Will the Government take note of the experience of the city of Leeds, which has adjusted itself to absorb immigrant communities—Irish, Jewish, Italian, Central European and Asian—and which has had no problems? I hope that as a result of the inquiry conducted by the Minister, his colleagues and the Department, other British cities will learn from the experience of Leeds to absorb those communities without serious problems.

The hon. Gentleman's supplementary question goes somewhat wide of the survey of civil servants in Leeds, but I am delighted to hear what he has said and I am grateful to all in Leeds who made the carrying out of this survey so effective.

Does the Minister agree that the high participation rate shown in volume I of the report shows that it is feasible for widespread ethnic monitoring to take place throughout the Civil Service? How soon will the Minister be having meetings with the unions to ensure that the successes of Leeds can be repeated throughout the country?

As I explained in the answer to the main question, we are awaiting the second part of the survey, which, I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree, is an important element in it. It would be wise to await decisions and considerations of what should be done in the future until we have the full information.