BIS civil servants to go on strike over Sheffield closure plans

Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union announces one-day strike action of policy officials set to be affected by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' plan to close its office in Sheffield

By Matt Foster

13 May 2016

Civil servants working at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) are to go on strike over plans to close the department’s Sheffield site.

BIS announced earlier this year that it intends to shut its St Paul’s Place site by 2018, in favour of centralising its policymaking staff at its London headquarters.

The move — which the department says could help save £14m and create a more effective policymaking operation — potentially places more than 240 jobs at risk, and has been criticised by unions and local MPs as running counter to promises to hand more power away from Whitehall.

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In a statement issued on Friday, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union said there had been “overwhelming” support for industrial action by its policy members at the site.

A one-day strike will now take place on Thursday, May 19, after 96% of the 150 affected PCS members backed action on a 53% turnout.

The union is also considering further action, and PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the move “sends the clearest possible message to BIS ministers and senior officials that these plans are wrong and must be reversed”.

He added: “The closure of this office is precisely the opposite of what the government claims to want for the north and the wider civil service.”

BIS minister Anna Soubry this week confirmed that staff affected by the closure will learn of their fate on May 23. CSW understands that several meetings of the BIS Board are still to take place before that final decision is taken.

Soubry was speaking in the House of Commons, as MPs backed a parliamentary motion calling on the National Audit Office public spending watchdog to take a detailed look at BIS’s plans.

“We need simple structures that allow staff to interact through quicker, less cumbersome means” - BIS minister Anna Soubry

The minister said BIS’s planned move had been driven by the need for the department to find £350m in spending cuts over the course of the parliament, including by reducing its “abundance of sites”. 

“We need simple structures that allow staff to interact through quicker, less cumbersome means and stay close to each other in flexible teams,” she said.

But, speaking after the debate, Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield said Soubry’s answers were “simply not good enough”, and again pushed for the department to produce a separate business case for the closure.

“This is the business department; no business would ever operate in that way,” he said.

“It is disappointing we have had to call in the National Audit Office, but MPs from all parties were clear. If that’s what it takes to get this decision properly scrutinised, so be it. There is still time for the department to withdraw the decision and start again.”

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