Public Accounts Committee warns of ‘significant risks to service delivery’ from the speed and scale of cuts to civil service staff


MPs have warned of ‘significant risks to service delivery’ from the speed and scale of cuts to civil service jobs and staff at the Department of Work and Pensions (pictured) and the Cabinet Office.

The Public Accounts Select Committee says 35,000 civil service jobs were cut in 2011.

More than half the staff left through ‘early departures’, in what civil service unions say are ‘rushed and ill-thought through’ cuts to the employee headcount across Whitehall.

The committee says redundancy and severance payments cost £600m, which MPs say will take between 11 and 15 months to recoup, after which departments will save around £400m per year in staff costs.

However, the report warns that more compulsory redundancies are ‘likely’ in any future rounds of staff cuts and the MPs say they are concerned that ‘poor management information systems’ are hampering the selection of individuals who might be considered for redundancy.

The PCS union says the report has highlighted the ‘ideological nature’ of Coalition cuts and that it will resist any compulsory redundancies among civil service staff.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This highlights the ideological nature of the government’s ‘cut first, plan later’ approach.

“Under the guise of ‘dealing with deficit’ ministers are slashing spending with no regard for how essential public services are being affected.

“The question from MPs shouldn’t be, how can departments cope with fewer staff, but why are they being forced to in the first place?

“Instead of pressing on with more damaging cuts that are wrecking our economy, the government should be investing to improve services and help our economy to grow.

“Any move towards increased use of compulsory redundancies would be totally unnecessary, and would be fiercely resisted.”

The Public Accounts Committee says future rounds of staff cuts in the civil service are likely to be ‘more challenging’ and are ‘likely to involve more compulsory redundancies’.

Richard Bacon MP, who sits on the committee, said: “Although departments have moved quickly to reduce staff numbers, few appear to be giving thought to how they are going to operate permanently with a lower number of staff.

“It is imperative that they do so.

“Without a fundamental redesign in departments’ working practices, staff numbers will probably rise as soon as restrictions on recruitment and spending have been lifted.

“The savings that have been achieved in staff costs will not be sustainable unless departments now complete long-term operating models for their businesses.

“What is not known is whether the reductions in staff are having an effect on departmental performance and service standards.”

The MPs – who took evidence from the DWP and Cabinet Office as well as the Head of the Civil Service – say they are worried about a lack of clear information to track the risk of any damage to the delivery of services inside these departments as a result of the reduction in staff.

Prospect deputy general secretary Dai Hudd said: “Here is yet another report saying there are key problems with civil service skills – and that these rushed cuts and ill-thought-through attempts to save money will not be sustainable.

“Prospect has been pressing departments to carry out skills audits over a number of years to ensure the resources are there to retain scarce skills. But so far we have been ignored. The current haphazard approach simply means the civil service will have to buy in the skills and capabilities that are being shed in such cavalier fashion.”

The union says Ministry of Defence staff have borne the brunt of Whitehall cuts, with headcount numbers falling from 84,000 (in January 2011) to 75,000 (January 2012).

It says the collapse has accelerated this year, with 3,500 staff leaving under the ‘early releases’ scheme in 2011, followed by a further 4,000 in the first half of 2012.

Says Dai Hudd: “Today’s report shows the stupidity of pressing ahead with cuts driven by headcount targets, rather than business need, and without the benefit of workforce planning.

“Behind this cynical numbers exercise are real people providing a real service, whose vital talents are being lost, while our political leaders fail to confront the country’s long-term economic problems.

“This chaos will continue until the government gets to grips with defining the skills it needs in the modern civil service, something Prospect has raised repeatedly with ministers and will continue to do so.”

The Cabinet Office estimates that around half of the required headcount reduction is yet to come.

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