Unions demand pause to civil service reduction plans

Government has "no authority" to continue work on 91,000 job cut proposal, unions say

By Tevye Markson

13 Jul 2022

Trade unions are asking the government to stop work on proposals to cut 91,000 civil service jobs until a new prime minister is appointed.

PCS, Prospect and the FDA met with government officials last week as Boris Johnson was resigning, to discuss their concerns about the planned headcount reduction and pay terms.

Having requested the meeting some weeks ago, the PM’s resignation changed the focus of the meeting, with the unions demanding a pause to the job cuts policy.

“We stressed that the civil service should not be spending precious resources working on the 91,000 job cuts plan until a new prime minister is appointed and the policy is reviewed,” FDA general secretary Dave Penman told CSW.

“A flawed process, championed by a cabinet that no longer exists, should not be the mechanism for determining the size of the civil service.”

In the meeting with officials, who included civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm, unions said they believed “there would now be no legitimacy and there is no political authority to oversee a 91,000 job cuts programme”, added PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka.

“The prime minister, the cabinet and a large part of the ministerial team are moving. So our starting point was we believe everything should be stopped and we should wait now until there's a new government with authority,” he said.

Departments handed in their estimations of how cuts of between 20% and 40% would impact them at the end of June. These will be scrutinised and used to form a civil service-wide plan, which is expected in September or October.

Cabinet Office officials told unions in the meeting that they were still operating under the instructions they received before Johnson announced his resignation, Clancy said. Analysis of the departmental submissions will therefore go ahead as planned over the summer, ready to present to the new government.

“So in headline terms, nothing has changed,” Clancy said.

“We are still dealing with a 91,000 job-loss proposition. But anyone who cares to look knows that the ground is shifting on that. It must do to some extent.”

Serwotka is hopeful that the timescales will at least be pushed back during the period before a new PM is appointed.

 

“We would expect that this stuff at a minimum is going to be delayed from its October timetable that they've previously worked,” he said.

“But their official position is they remain wedded to the previous proposals,” he added.

Whether the job cuts go ahead and in what form will depend on the next prime minister, who is set to be named on 5 September.

Clancy said he hopes that the next leader will reject the “preposterous” plans.

“You've got to hope that a wiser leadership, that is trying to represent itself to the country as maybe more moderate, more based in the facts, and less in the bluster, could use this as an opportunity to step away from that headline figure.

But he added: “On the other hand, if the Conservative Party still see electoral advantage in looking tough on civil servants, then we might just see more of the same.”

The next PM will have a fresh agenda from the previous administration – “as is clear even from the opening skirmishes of the Conservative Party leadership election” – and will need civil servants to deliver these new policies.

“Any serious government needs to be able to demonstrate it is matching its commitments with the resources delivered to the civil service,” he said.

The unions also slammed ministers for their failure to meet with them sooner over the job cuts proposals and their pay demands. PCS has today confirmed the dates of its national strike ballot, starting in September, and Serwotka said PCS will go ahead with balloting members “unless there is a change and people are prepared to meet and consult and negotiate”.

Prospect are also considering industrial action over the government’s pay and job cuts policies, with Clancy saying the union will take “whatever form of action is appropriate to place pressure –  if that's what members want”.

A government spokesperson said: “As the prime minister has made clear, the civil service works hard to implement the government’s agenda and deliver for the public.

“Our focus is on having a civil service that has the skills and capabilities to continue delivering outstanding public services, which is exactly why we have changed recruitment rules to bring in the very best talent and are investing in the professional development of our people.

"It is crucial that all aspects of taxpayer spending demonstrates efficiency and value for money. It was right to grow the civil service to deliver Brexit and deal with the pandemic, but we must now return it to 2016 staffing levels and have asked all government departments to set out how this might be achieved."

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