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Volume 168: debated on Monday 5 March 1990

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To ask the Minister for the Civil Service if he will make a statement on progress on implementing the agency programme.


To ask the Minister for the Civil Service how many areas of activity have now been granted executive agency status; and how many new agencies he expects to be created over the next 12 months.

Progress is very good. Eleven executive agencies have so far been established and I expect many more shortly. The first agencies are achieving tangible improvements in the efficiency and quality of Government services.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress that has been made. Will he confirm, despite the disgraceful and partisan scare campaign, that those who work in the agencies enjoy Civil Service conditions of work and Civil Service pensions?

My hon. Friend is right on the latter point. When an agency is established, that does not mean that the civil servants automatically lose their status. On the contrary: they remain a salient part of the Civil Service, and unless, after consultation, their conditions are adjusted, those also remain the same. There is now a great speeding up in the introduction of agencies. There will be a major introduction with the employment service becoming an agency next month, and I expect that by the summer a large proportion of the Civil Service will be moving in that direction.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, with the 11 agencies already established, when the 43 agency candidates identified become agencies, more than one third of the Civil Service will have done so? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that gives a better sense of identity to the employers in those agencies and will answer the Comptroller and Auditor General's report when the collection of employers' contributions comes under an agency?

My hon. Friend is right. All the candidates—which now amount to 44, including the DSS contributions and benefits agencies—amount to one third of the Civil Service. We are now making steady progress and with the introduction of a large number of agencies this spring and summer, the Civil Service will begin to transform in a major way.

Has the Minister any plans to reduce the number of civil servants who administer the benefits system as a prelude to its privatisation, which I understand may lead to an American firm operating it?

That subject is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. A decision has been taken to create two large agencies to administer the benefits and contributions functions of the Department of Social Security. Under our agencies policy, we first decide whether services are fit to be privatised. If the Minister decides that they are not suitable, the next option is to decide whether they should be established as agencies. As agencies, they remain within the Government system and their staff remain civil servants.