BIS Sheffield: D-day for staff as board to announce on closure plans

Department for Business perm sec Martin Donnelly arrives to brief staff on possible St Paul's Place closure plans – as strike action continues

By Matt Foster

26 May 2016

Civil servants working at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills's (BIS) Sheffield site are to learn their fate today as the department's board announces its plan for the future of the office.

BIS permanent secretary Martin Donnelly has travelled to the St Paul's Place site with the BIS board to make an announcement, after the department consulted with unions on plans to close the office and transfer its policy roles to the department's London HQ.

The department has said the move will create a more efficient operation by bringing policy teams closer to ministers in Whitehall, and says the closure is part of its wider aim of saving £350m from its running costs through a 'BIS 2020' reorganisation plan.

BIS Sheffield staff go on strike over closure plan – as shadow civil service minister urges better local consultation
BIS estate to shrink from 80 sites to "seven or eight", says minister Sajid Javid – as perm sec Martin Donnelly is pressed on Sheffield closure

But unions and local MPs have been highly critical of the proposals, which could put more than 240 jobs at risk. They dispute the cost basis for the move and say it would run counter to the government's stated aim of transferring power away from Britain's capital.

BIS Sheffield staff who belong to the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union are out on strike today for a further 48 hours of action. The strike follows a one-day walkout last week.

According to those at the scene, Donnelly and the BIS Board have crossed the picket line and are now at the site to make an announcement. 

One official taking strike action – senior BIS policy advisor Amerjit Basi – told CSW: "The mood is determined, and we all want the announcement to say we're keeping BIS Sheffield open. All the evidence is for this."

A spokesperson for BIS said in response to last week's action that the proposal to close the site "has not been put forward lightly" and said "ensuring staff are fully briefed and consulted remains a huge priority for us".

They added: "That's why the permanent secretary, along with BIS officials and board members, have engaged with staff and unions closely as part of the formal consultation and ministers have discussed the proposals with both MPs and in Parliament."

Donnelly has meanwhile described the original announcement of the BIS closure plan as "the most difficult" of his professional life. The department is looking to significantly shrink its estate from 80 sites to seven or eight.

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