The Cabinet Office has sought to reassure civil servants that they will not be made redundant to make way for apprentices, after unions raised concerns about references to Whitehall's apprenticeship drive in the consultation on overhauling exit pay.
Last week the government published its plans for a wide-ranging shake-up of redundancy terms across the civil service, including cuts to exit payouts and an end to employer-funded early access to pensions.
The Civil Service Compensation Scheme was last amended in 2010, but the Cabinet Office now says it "remains too expensive in light of the national debt and budget deficit".
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It adds: "This is especially acute because of the requirement to reduce current staff numbers due to both the Spending Review and the need to create space to allow for the recruitment of apprentices".
Under separate plans outlined by the Department for Business, all public sector organisations employing 250 or more staff will soon be expected to meet a new, annual target for apprenticeships starts based on the size of their workforce – part of a wider government initiative to create 3m new apprenticeships across the private and public sectors by the end of the decade.
The mention of apprenticeships in the Compensation Scheme document has, however, caused alarm among unions.
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, told the Financial Times that there needed to be "an unequivocal statement from the minister confirming that not a single job will be lost to make space for apprentices".
The government should not, he added, "use the drive to increase the number of apprentices in the UK as an excuse for making existing staff redundant".
Meanwhile, a Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) spokepserson said: "We want the civil service to grow and develop, and to provide opportunities for young people from diverse backgrounds to help tackle persistent under-representation in the senior ranks.
“But the government's perverse policies of cutting jobs and redundancy pay, while bringing in apprentices on the cheap, is not the way to do it.”
However, a Cabinet Office spokesperson pushed back against those claims
"It is absolutely untrue to suggest that any individual civil servant will be made redundant to make way for an apprentice," they said, adding: "The government remains absolutely committed to the apprenticeships programme."