Whitehall focus DfES review could slash 800 jobs

5 Feb 04
The Department for Education and Skills has admitted that it plans to cut up to 800 jobs as part of an efficiency review that is likely to have repercussions across other Whitehall departments.

06 February 2004

The Department for Education and Skills has admitted that it plans to cut up to 800 jobs as part of an efficiency review that is likely to have repercussions across other Whitehall departments.

Senior civil servants in the department are completing a review of the employment arrangements at the DfES, which will involve cuts in staffing at all major departmental sites around the country, including Sheffield, Darlington and Westminster.

The staffing review is part of a Whitehall-wide efficiency drive, led by the Treasury, seeking to relocate and cut back the number of staff working in London.

A civil servant at the Treasury said the efficiency review would involve all departments but could not confirm if similar numbers of redundancies would be made in other departments.

The DfES, despite initially dismissing the talk of job losses as speculation, confirmed this week that cuts were likely, but stressed that 'all possible efforts' would be made to avoid any compulsory redundancies.

A source at the DfES said that although compulsory redundancies could not be ruled out, it was likely that the cuts could be made with voluntary redundancies and early retirements.

He added: 'Of utmost importance is the need to maintain the best service possible for our customers and we will try to ensure that staff cuts do not affect that.'

Staff at the Department of Health are also awaiting news on job cuts – up to 40% of employees are expected to lose their jobs in the coming year.

Last December, Whitehall's top mandarin, Cabinet secretary Sir Andrew Turnbull, admitted that there were too many civil servants and pledged to reduce the number working in London.

'We can reduce the numbers and we certainly will reduce the numbers,' he said. 'People will be asked to say what they can do to reduce their back office costs and streamline their dealings with the front line.'

A Cabinet Office source said the staffing issue was 'sensitive' but he warned that no staff, junior or senior, would be safe from the modernising and efficiency drive.

He told Public Finance: 'There is huge pressure on all staff, including senior civil servants, to deliver better and faster, and it is quite clear that no-one will escape these changes.'

Private sector secondees cut more red tape

The government is making progress on its promises to cut the burden of regulation, according to the team of private sector secondees brought in to make the changes.

According to the Treasury, some 240 unnecessary regulations have been abandoned since February 2002.

The six-strong team, including employees from the Royal Bank of Scotland and British Telecom, are due to publish a report on their work in April. Initial findings suggest that the government has made progress in tackling red tape and has already completed 12 of the 22 regulatory changes called for by the team two years ago.

The government has struggled to improve the links between government and businesses, with improved consultation and more secondment of staff to the private sector.

In early December, the Cabinet Office unveiled an initiative to streamline the procurement process across departments. A joint report from the Regulatory Impact Unit's Public Sector Team and the Office of Government Commerce recommended five key areas of civil service purchase and supply practices that could be improved, including speeding up the procurement process, reducing costs and improving leadership and client capability.

Chancellor Gordon Brown has earmarked more than 650 regulations to be removed and claims to have made progress on removing more than 240 in the past two years.

Baby bond charges capped at 1.5% as Treasury woos finance firms

The Treasury has admitted that its plans for controversial child trust funds have failed to attract the interest of finance companies, and has agreed to cap charges at 1.5% to try to increase interest in the scheme.

The funds are expected to be available from April 2005, but the Treasury has had little interest from finance companies because they claim that they could not make an economic return.

Officials planning the scheme had initially planned to cap charges at 1%, but the finance firms argued there would be little incentive for firms to promote their uptake.

Children will not be able to touch the fund until they reach 18. Under the scheme, every baby born after September 2002 will receive a handout of £250, rising to £500 in the case of low-income families.

A Treasury source told Public Finance that the changes were made following consultation. He said: 'This is a key plank in our attempts to lift as many children as possible out of poverty.'


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