12 November 2004
In the wake of the biggest civil service strike for ten years, the leader of the Public and Commercial Services union has accused the government of turning the civil service into a 'political football' over plans to cut more than 70,000 jobs across Whitehall.
Speaking at the conference of the CBI business lobby in Birmingham this week, Mark Serwotka accused the government of using 'disgraceful terminology' in its description of back-office civil servants.
'Public services will not be made more efficient by using a blunt instrument to reduce head counts,' he warned. 'It is irresponsible to make job cuts in the Inland Revenue and Customs when there is a major problem with tax evasion.'
The strike on November 5, which affected 160 government departments and services, including job centres and benefits offices, was in protest at the planned job cuts, changes to sick leave arrangements and the raising of the retirement age from 60 to 65.
At the CBI, Serwotka clashed with Inland Revenue and Customs head David Varney, who refused to rule out compulsory redundancies during the merger of the two departments. Varney said that changes in technology would mean jobs would be replaced with others that were more rewarding.
The Treasury said the strike would not affect its plans to implement Sir Peter Gershon's efficiency review. Chancellor Gordon Brown said last week: 'We are determined to make savings at the centre to increase investment to vital services at the front line.
Serwotka said the government was engaged in a 'Dutch auction' with the Conservative Party over how many jobs could be cut.
A senior civil servant at the Inland Revenue told Public Finance that the changes were being implemented to move more people 'on to the front line'.
'It is the wish of this government to remove what it terms excess staffing across Whitehall and we are complying with that wish,' he said. 'Time will tell whether it is the correct way to go.'
Union asks court to resolve redundancy 'farce' at DWP
Senior civil servants at the Department for Work and Pensions are locked in a battle with unions over the use of a performance development system (PDS) to earmark people for redundancy.
Negotiations stalled last week after a series of meetings to hammer out the details of a process for redundancies ended in acrimony.
The Public and Commercial Services union is already preparing for a High Court battle on the issue, with a hearing scheduled for the end of this month.
In the latest row, negotiations on the redundancy procedure ended with an agreement in principle on how it would be carried out. The DWP executive team then refused to endorse the agreement to exclude the use of the disputed PDS, which had already been agreed by its own negotiators.
A union source told Public Finance: 'We were in negotiations and a deal was reached. We then went outside and found the executive team refusing to endorse the deal. It is a farce. The matter is now going to the High Court and it will have to be sorted out there.'
The PDS operates on a ranking basis, with all staff receiving a performance rating, which is also linked to their pay. The union, however, has argued that the system is unfair because only a limited number of staff can receive a high performance rating. It believes the system discriminates because of the quota system.
The source added: 'We are simply saying that we don't see how this system is equitable. What if you have ten brilliant people in a department but can only give eight a top rating? How is that fair?'
A civil servant at the DWP would not be drawn on the issue. 'It is still being discussed,' he said.
Dome cost taxpayers £33m to mothball
Taxpayers will have paid more than £33m to mothball the Millennium Dome by the time it is taken over by private developers, English Partnerships has revealed.
The regeneration agency has confirmed that the taxpayer will still be paying for the site in 2007, almost six years after its closure. English Partnerships took over the Dome six months after the building, which cost £800m to build, closed to paying customers. The £33m figure is EP's estimate of the total cost to the public purse since then.
A National Audit Office report examining the handling of the Dome and whether it was value for money is due to be published in the next two months.
English Partnerships said the Dome's monthly running costs stand at £190,000, which is spent on maintenance, insurance and security.
Private developers are now considering the construction of a Las Vegas-style casino on the Greenwich site. Work is also due to start on a 20,000-seater sports arena and music venue next spring, subject to planning approval.