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Think-tank angers unions over ‘easily manageable’ job cuts claim

By Richard Johnstone | 9 September 2011

A think-thank has been attacked as ‘ignorant’ by trade unions for describing the likely loss of 400,000 public sector jobs as ‘easily manageable’.

A report by Reform, ahead of the Trades Union Congress annual conference, says that public services could improve despite the reduction in posts following the government’s spending cuts.

The Right-of-centre think-tank has urged ministers to ‘reject’ any calls at next week’s TUC conference for a freeze in job cuts.

However, trade unions have accused the report of promoting an anti-state agenda.

The 400,000 figure is the Office for Budget Responsibility’s projection of the number of posts that will be lost from the current 5.49 million strong workforce as a result of the public spending reductions between 2010/11 and 2015/16.

Reform says that job cuts can go together with better services, highlighting eight case studies.

It cites Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, which halved the numbers of deaths in fires between 1997 and 2007, while cutting the number of firefighters from 1,500 to fewer than 900. Reform also found that Birmingham City Council saved £56m on staff costs between April 2010 and March 2011 after using intelligent workforce planning to reduce the staff headcount, with no major compulsory redundancies.

The report, Reformers and wreckers, argues that successful management of public services is ‘the exception rather than the rule’. 

Calling a reduction in the number of posts a ‘key outcome of successful workforce reform’, the report recommends that public sector organisations should replace only nine workers for every ten that leave. It also calls for the abolition of national pay settlements for teachers and NHS staff, with pay decisions made locally.

Reform director Andrew Haldenby said: ‘The best public sector managers change the way they employ people to make their services better and cheaper. The TUC recommendations would stop these improvements in their tracks. A smaller, higher-quality public sector workforce will mean better public services.’

However, the Unite trade union accused Reform of wanting to ‘break up the welfare state for the benefit of the market-driven private sector’.

Assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: ‘Unfortunately, the rhetoric is turning into reality with policies designed to break-up the national education and health services.

‘Britain and its citizens have gained enormously from the benefits of the public sector over the past 65 years, where the ethos of service for all has transcended the profit motive of a few. This ethos is being seriously eroded by the government.’

Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, added that the report was ‘full of ignorant so-called research’ and did ‘not provide any evidence to substantiate its claim that deregulating pay and conditions would improve school results’.



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