FCDO morale at ‘rock bottom’ as government denies 10% staff cuts planned

Unions condemn "mixed messages" after an email sent to officials said there would be cuts and voluntary redundancy schemes
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Photo: FCDO

By Tevye Markson

17 Dec 2021

Staff morale in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is at “rock bottom” amid confusion over proposals for significant staff cuts in the department, CSW has been told.

The FCDO told staff earlier this week there would be cuts of almost 10%, only for prime minister Boris Johnson to call the claims “fake news”.

Civil service unions have slammed the mixed messages about the future of the department, saying staff should not go into the Christmas break with such uncertainty.

FDA officer Victoria Jones said: “FCDO staff have been left utterly confused, as they were initially informed of significant staff cuts within the department, only to have this denied by ministers and all references subsequently expunged from FCDO systems.

“This kind of uncertainty is hugely damaging to staff morale, so it’s crucial that a clear message goes out to staff before Christmas to clear up the situation.”

And PCS officer Helen Flanagan said the department “appears to be in disarray, with one hand not knowing what the other is doing”.

“As a result, morale is rock bottom and staff no longer have faith in anything FCDO leaders say. We have requested urgent consultation on the strategic workforce plans.

“It is unacceptable for staff to be going into their festive break with this much confusion regarding job security.”

Email shared plans for 'smaller organisation' and redundancy schemes

On Tuesday, FCDO staff received an email – seen by CSW – which said: “We will become a smaller organisation. In line with our SR settlement, and the direction of travel across the civil service, we are planning on the basis of just under a 10% reduction in our overall workforce size by March 2025. 

"As far as possible, we want to achieve reductions through normal departures, the management of our vacancies and the redeployment of our staff into funded posts.  

"But we will also have voluntary exit schemes and are seeking approval from HM Treasury and Cabinet Office for these, with the intention to open schemes this financial year, for exits through 2022."

The message was also uploaded to the staff intranet but has been “hastily withdrawn by the FCDO with no replacement message in place”, PCS said.

The FCDO has also now removed all references to staff cuts from its systems, according to the FDA.

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, raised the issue in the House of Commons on Wednesday, saying he had heard about the planned cuts.

But Johnson denied the claim, calling it “fake news”.

Tugendhat then tabled an urgent question yesterday, asking for an update on the proposals.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly responded by saying: "There will not be a 10% staff cut, and ministers will make the final decisions on workforce changes in the spring."

Cleverly refused to say how many jobs in the department would go nor if there would be compulsory redundancies.

Why are cuts being proposed?

As part of its Spending Review settlement with the Treasury, all departments have committed to cut costs by 5%by 2024-2025.

The proposals include reducing the non-frontline civil service headcount to 2019-20 levels by 2024-25, helping to fund increases to frontline roles.

However, the Treasury has so far been unable to define what it means by “frontline roles”.

Jones at the FDA said: “The department is at the heart of the government’s Global Britain agenda and any reduction in staffing will have a huge impact on FCDO’s ability to deliver.

“I’d urge the government to think carefully about how they match resources to commitments and engage with the FCDO unions so that we can work together on shaping the future of the department.”

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