Whitehall Focus - Reviews threaten good bureaucrats

10 Jun 04
Whitehall's three landmark reviews Gershon, O'Donnell and Lyons could diminish the attractiveness of working as a frontline civil servant by slashing the number of 'good bureaucrats', a new report has claimed.

11 June 2004

Whitehall's three landmark reviews – Gershon, O'Donnell and Lyons – could diminish the attractiveness of working as a frontline civil servant by slashing the number of 'good bureaucrats', a new report has claimed.

A study by the Work Foundation think-tank and the Public and Commercial Services union's Inland Revenue group, published on June 7, claims that the government's drive to eradicate Whitehall waste and free resources for frontline services could backfire.

Living on the frontline – a future for the civil service says that targeting what many politicians call 'non-essential' workers would lead to a unnecessary cull in 'undervalued' civil servants who perform key functions that save the Exchequer vital cash.

The three studies represent the 'most widescale changes to the civil service for 150 years', the foundation and PCS claim.

Sir Peter Gershon's all-encompassing review of Whitehall, which will feed into the Treasury's 2004 Spending Review, will identify up to £20bn-a-year savings, while Sir Michael Lyons' study has already earmarked at least 20,000 civil service jobs for relocation out of London.

Gus O'Donnell's report, meanwhile, focused on merging the revenue departments using, among other things, improved IT.

Senior sources are working on the assumption that up to 80,000 Whitehall posts could go under the efficiency drive. But the WF/PCS study warns against such huge cuts, claiming many bureaucrats 'perform a critical social and economic' function.

'Compared with doctors and teachers, tax collectors and benefit administrators are undervalued by the public. But without efficient tax collection, for example, there would be less money for health and education.' While the WF does not oppose the pursuit of efficiency savings, Louise Horner, senior researcher, calls on the government to offer an 'employment deal' to protect vital posts and to make sure revenue departments become the 'employer of choice' for future civil servants.

'Cuts alone will not improve efficiency in the long term. The government, as an employer, needs to think about offering a better deal to those who stay, with an eye on where the recruits in five years will come from.'

But one senior Whitehall source told Public Finance that while the study highlighted many of the problems ministers face in determining the nature of post-Gershon Whitehall, 'it is almost devoid of constructive alternatives'.

DWP pay dispute triggers third Whitehall strike

Whitehall is bracing itself for a third major strike by civil servants this year, after its largest union voted to take further action in the long-running pay dispute with the Department for Work and Pensions.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services union voted to endorse what is likely to be a two-day walkout in July when the DWP pay debate opened the union's annual conference in Brighton on June 7.

It follows two 48-hour stoppages — involving up to 80,000 staff — earlier this year. The dispute centres on a performance-related pay system controversially imposed on staff last month as part of the belated 2003 pay deal.

The union has begun High Court action aimed at overturning the PRP system. But a spokesman for the PCS told Public Finance that employers look set to impose a pay deal for 2004 — leaving the PCS 'with little alternative' but to continue with strike action.

Stella Dennis, the union's DWP group president, said: 'Members are furious at management's continuing arrogant, high-handed tactics. With the prospect of no positive way forward… members have endorsed a stepping up of the campaign.'

The PCS is also leading pay disputes at the Health and Safety Executive and the Office for National Statistics.

Public workers make decisions on 'gut instinct'

Almost half of public sector workers, including many Whitehall staff, admit to making critical decisions 'based on gut instinct', according to new research.

A public sector efficiency study by the Oracle group, which supplies IT solutions to the sector, found that 44% of workers admit to making key decisions on the hoof, while 75% believe that poor organisational operations prevent citizens receiving good advice from government bodies.

Andy Smith, head of public services at Oracle, said examples of managers rushing into key decisions included deciding on 'unachievable targets' and poorly planned management strategies.

He added: 'These sorts of decisions could block effective reform of the sector that will be necessary following Gershon's review of Whitehall working practices.'

Oracle's report, published on June 7, claims: 'A huge chunk of the public sector admits to being swamped by bureaucracy, and staff say that internal processes need to improve dramatically before his [Gershon's] efficiency review… sees an improvement.'

One unfortunate spin-off, Smith says, is the growing 'work late' culture across Whitehall, as many staff are forced to stay behind to catch up on non-core tasks.

Three-quarters of the respondents believe that customer satisfaction levels would improve if processes were modernised.

The report, however, also notes that some staff are likely to fight changes in operational practice in the post-Gershon era. More than 25% of respondents claim their co-workers' resistance to change is 'dragging productivity down'.

Smith urged the government and all public sector bodies to better assess how they reform their IT and management systems, with a view to initiating genuine joined-up data sharing between departments.


Did you enjoy this article?