Whitehall Focus - Holyrood civil servants may face the sack

23 Sep 04
Scotland's permanent secretary has called on the Civil Service Commission to investigate the role of civil servants criticised in the Fraser report on the Holyrood Parliament.

24 September 2004

Scotland's permanent secretary has called on the Civil Service Commission to investigate the role of civil servants criticised in the Fraser report on the Holyrood Parliament.

In a newspaper interview, John Elvidge said that if a commissioner independently recommended disciplinary action, it would be up to him as permanent secretary to take action.

'We fire people if they have done something wrong. The image of this as an organisation where no-one ever bears the consequences of their actions is a false one,' he said.

However, he stressed that the culture was not to sack people because they had made a wrong judgement. Following publication of the report, Elvidge publicly apologised for the mistakes of the past and said he would press ahead with further reforms of the civil service.

'The important thing for us is that we accept some responsibility, and that we take action to make sure we are not the sort of organisation in which those mistakes could occur again,' he said.

Elvidge said he would examine whether it was appropriate to take disciplinary action, but an independent investigation by the Civil Service Commission was the process likely to command public confidence.

Morale among Scottish civil servants is said to have slumped as a result of the inquiry report. Jim Caldwell, a Scottish representative for the FDA senior civil servants' union, counselled against a 'witch-hunt' and said he believed there would be no case for disciplinary action.

Lord Fraser concluded that there was no single 'villain of the piece' in the events that led to the Parliament costing £431m – more than ten times the original estimate, and being delivered three years behind schedule.

But former permanent secretary Sir Muir Russell, project sponsor Barbara Doig, project manager Bill Armstrong, Paul Grice, the Parliament's chief executive, and Robert Gordon, former head of the Executive secretariat, all came under fire.

The criticisms included a failure to advise ministers about the possible consequences of the construction management system of procurement, described by Lord Fraser as the single factor that led to most of the misfortunes befalling the project, and a failure to inform ministers about the rising costs.

Unions call for Whitley Council meeting over job cuts

The Council of Civil Service Unions has written to the Cabinet Office demanding an emergency meeting of Whitehall's Whitley Council – the latest attempt to negotiate over the government's planned job cull before a strike is called.

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka this week released details of the letter sent to former Cabinet Office minister Douglas Alexander on September 9.

The CCSU claims that Whitehall is facing a 'crisis of even greater magnitude' than the last time the council met, to discuss the ban on unions at GCHQ imposed by the Conservative government in 1984.

Serwotka, who is balloting his members over a national strike planned for November 5, urges discussion of six key issues including plans for 104,500 job cuts, relocation policies and pay.

While he and CCSU secretary Charles Cochrane welcomed the government's commitment to public service improvement and 'want to work co-operatively and creatively with the government around shared goals', they added: 'We do not accept that a simplistic debate around headcount is the basis for doing this.'

Meetings of the Whitley Council have been infrequent during its 80-year history, but it remains the ultimate industrial relations forum for Whitehall issues. However, it is thought that Ruth Kelly, who has taken over from Alexander, is unlikely to convene the government's side of the Council.

The CCSU also represents the FDA senior managers' union, Prospect, the Prison Officers Association and the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance.

HR staff make way for 'robots'

Ministry of Defence officials are set to implement an electronic human resource management system, which unions claim is untested and too risky.

From 2006, face-to-face contact with many local HR managers will be replaced with an electronic consultation system. Line management consultations on issues such as internal policy and disciplinary procedures could become a thing of the past under the 'HR Transformation Initiative'.

The new system will draw on the use of e-mails and telephone helplines to provide personnel support to staff. However, the union Prospect claimed the system has not been adequately tested.

The union has dubbed the scheme 'inhuman resource management' and has questioned the MoD's capacity to deliver in the timescale envisaged.

But the ministry said many of the new facilities have been up and running for some time. A spokeswoman said: 'The software package and facilities we are using for HR are widely and successfully used across the corporate sector. Our programme of on-line management is in line with many other schemes being rolled out across the public sector.'


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