Local Authorities (Manpower)

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12 December 1979.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Benyon Mr Thomas Benyon , Abingdon 12:00, 12 December 1979

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his latest estimate of local authority staff numbers.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Minister of State (Department of Environment) (Local Government)

On 8 September 1979, the joint manpower watch figures, published today, showed 2,092,271 full-time equivalent staff in local authorities in England and Wales. This figure represents a decrease of 11,871 full-time equivalent staff since June 1979, but is still 18,185 up on the figure for September 1978.

Photo of Mr Thomas Benyon Mr Thomas Benyon , Abingdon

Does not that put into perspective the outlandish scares about severe cuts in services, since councils are employing more staff than they were at this time last year? Currently it appears that the figure for the employment of local authority staff is standing at an all-time high.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Minister of State (Department of Environment) (Local Government)

I hope that all hon. Members, especially those who are most profuse in their complaints about the severe effects of cuts on local government, will take the opportunity to study the joint manpower watch figures published today. They will find that across a wide category of employment in local authorities there is a continuing increase in employment, even though we asked for a curb on further recruitment in the interests of economy.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

Is the Minister willing to admit that the reason why there has not been a dramatic reduction in the number of staff employed by local authorities is that even Conservative-controlled local authorities are now standing out in opposition to the Government's policies, which are attacking local authorities and requiring them to cut services? Is he also aware that within local government, especially among Conservative councillors, there is a strong feeling that the Government's proposals to pay local authority chairmen and to reintroduce political honours is a cynical and mercenary attempt by the Government to buy off Tory councillors who are opposed to the Government's policies?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Minister of State (Department of Environment) (Local Government)

In terms of the reductions that we are seeking, the cuts are nothing like as savage as those that were imposed on local authorities when the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) was Secretary of State for the Environment. The right hon. Gentleman imposed them as a result of the IMF cuts, and they had to be effected within that year. Part of the problem that we now face is that, having earlier recognised the need for economy, the right hon. Gentleman positively invited further recruitment last year, and invited local authorities to plan for growth. That was a totally irresponsible call in the light of the national economic position.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that, notwithstanding the argument of the hon. Member for Bootle, (Mr. Roberts), one of the restraining factors in the attempt to reduce local government staff is the determination of certain Labour authorities to carry on as though nothing has changed, and to increase staff by 200 or 300 over the next year?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Minister of State (Department of Environment) (Local Government)

We hear some well publicised statements from some authorities, but I think that the great majority of responsible authorities now recognise the seriousness of the position. We still have a considerable way to go, but I hope that the figures represent a start. We shall look to local authorities in the coming months. As further figures come forward, we hope to see further encouraging trends.