The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Bruce Milan):
On the basis adopted in reply to the hon. Member's Question on 30th July 1975, about 258,000, which includes about 10,000 employees engaged on responsibilities transferred to local authorities on reorganisation.—[Vol. 896, c. 536.]
Is the Minister aware that those figures represent a staggering increase of almost 50 per cent. in the number of local government officials over the past 15 years? Is not this vast and expensive growth of officialdom the real cause of so much of the discontent in Scotland? Surely, with this example before him, it is extraordinary that the Secretary of State should propose to set up an Assembly, which will mean more officials and higher taxes. How can he justify such prodigality of men and money, and what will he do to reduce the present increases?
I should not care to go back over 15 years, but in that period local authorities have had considerably more responsibilities placed on them. These figures cover the provision of many essential local services. I would not accept the hon. Member's analysis of the reason for any discontent that there may be in Scotland and I do not want to go back over the debate that we have had in the past week. But he will know that, in the rate support grant and other negotiations with local authorities, we have already made it clear that we do not want to see increases in local authority staffing.
But does not the Minister agree that many services in Scotland are still substantially short of skilled manpower? For example, will he assure the House that work in the social work services area, which is badly in need of more personnel, will not be subjected to any restrictions in staff?
I could not say that it will not be subjected to any restrictions, but what we have said to local authorities is that some services obviously have greater priority than others for increased staffing if the staff are available, but that if increased numbers are taken on in those services, reductions should be made elsewhere to keep the figures within the guidelines that we have given local authorities.
Is the Minister aware that when local government in Scotland was reorganised, we were promised that it would mean economies in staff and resources? Is he also aware that not only local but all public authorities, from Whitehall downwards, have increased their staff? That is partly due to the burden laid upon them by this place, but will he do his best to ensure less legisla- tion and some economy in administration?
Local authority staff include important people such as teachers. I have never known any hon. Member call on the Government to reduce the number of teachers. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that this is a long-term trend. Certain consequences have followed local government reform, but local authority staffs have increased over the years. At the moment we cannot afford to continue to increase at local authority level as we did in the past.