The Government has been accused of presiding over a decline in the English language after it emerged expatriate civil servant numbers have hit a record low. Allan Roger, president of the Association of Expatriate Civil Servants, spoke out after figures obtained by the Sunday Morning Post showed only 563 'non-local officers' remain - down from 1,249 at the handover. 'It's absurd. The Government should make a positive effort to recruit native English-speakers. It's not a racial issue but a linguistic one. Hong Kong's reputation is at stake,' said Mr Roger. His attack on the Government echoes increasing concern over the deteriorating standards of English in the SAR. 'I have seen the standards decline. Everyone has, and the Government must face up to this,' he said. 'I think the perception was that after the handover, English did not matter so much and consequently standards were allowed to decline. When I came here in 1987 the proportion of overseas civil servants was 11 per cent, and now it is less than half of one per cent.' This year's figure of 563 is down from 661 last year. The total civil service strength is 180,968. In 1996, there were 1,611 expat civil servants out of 182,675. The current picture is complicated by the fact that some existing officers swapped to 'locally modelled terms' after the handover. They are not included in the figures. It is not clear whether the Government keeps separate figures for officers on these terms. But Mr Roger said the number of expat civil servants employed on local terms had also declined, although he could not provide figures. Several hundred expat civil servants switched to local terms after successive court victories against the Government over terms and conditions. Mr Roger said: 'At the time of the court hearings it emerged that expats made up three per cent of the total civil service. 'I don't believe Beijing thought three per cent was unreasonable. Clearly the Government did. The Government should seek to recruit from its own jurisdiction if the talent is there. The question is: if it is not, what should they do?'