Whitehall focus Brown double-counted job moves

9 Dec 04
Chancellor Gordon Brown was accused this week of using accounting tricks to inflate his civil service relocation figures by including posts moved before Sir Michael Lyons' proposals for Whitehall were published.

10 December 2004

Chancellor Gordon Brown was accused this week of using accounting tricks to inflate his civil service relocation figures by including posts moved before Sir Michael Lyons' proposals for Whitehall were published.

In his Pre-Budget Report on December 2, Brown claimed that 4,350 of the 20,000 civil service posts identified by Lyons for relocation away from the Southeast have now been earmarked.

He included 2,300 posts at the Department for Work and Pensions and 1,230 at the Ministry of Defence, many of which, the PBR's accompanying literature suggests, have already been relocated. Also included were proposals to move 600 posts at the Office for National Statistics from London to Wales.

Brown said the figures were 'further steps on the way to a total by 2010 of 20,000 civil service jobs relocated to the regions'.

But Public Finance understands that many of the DWP posts were relocated long before Lyons published his study of Whitehall's capacity to relocate to regional offices in March 2004. Some of the posts included in Brown's PBR figures have even been earmarked for termination under the government's wider plan to slash more than 80,000 Whitehall jobs by 2008.

The DWP later told PF: 'By January 2004 [two months before Lyons' report], 285 posts had migrated from the Southeast to the Liverpool Pension Centre and by February 2004, a further 385 posts had migrated to the Wrexham Pension Centre.

'As part of the longer-term DWP modernisation programme, through to 2008, subsequent announcements on June 29 confirmed the closure of Liverpool Pension Centre.'

Sources at the Public and Commercial Services union, which has opposed the Whitehall job cuts, said Brown had played 'an accounting trick' to deliver the PBR figures. One added that it was no surprise that Brown had 'double-counted' posts that had both been relocated and identified for abolition.

'Some departments are struggling to identify both the civil service job cuts and the posts that will be relocated,' the source said.

Privately, some PCS staff admitted they were 'relieved' the government was double-counting, because it would involve fewer staff relocations.

But the DWP said Brown's figures were not misleading. Lyons' review, a spokeswoman said, identified a total of 4,021 DWP posts for relocation, including 1,800 that were identified by officials prior to the report's publication.

'The figure of 2,318 posts, announced by the chancellor, represents progress to date,' she added.

DWP taken to task by NAO over sick rates

The sick-note culture is still so rife at the Department for Work and Pensions that it is unlikely to meet its 2006 targets to reduce absences, a watchdog has warned.

An investigation by the National Audit Office found that, with an average absence rate of 12.6 days per person in 2003/04, the DWP is second only to the Prison Service in Whitehall for its poor sickness record. Up to 5% of its 142,000 staff are on sick leave on any given day.

Sickness absence in the DWP, which employs 25% of all civil servants, hasn't improved since 1999. The NAO warns that with Treasury targets to reduce staff by 30,000 in three years it will find cutting its absence rate a 'challenge'.

The auditor lays some of the blame on the DWP's 'considerable organisational and cultural change,' which includes the former Benefits Agency becoming Jobcentre Plus and continuing performance problems at the Child Support Agency.

However, the high levels of sickness are concentrated in distinct areas: part-time, female and lower-graded jobs and those that have to deal with the public. The main reasons for sick leave were mental disorders, suggesting high levels of stress, as well as 'ill-defined' conditions.

Attempts so far to reduce sickness rates have largely been unsuccessful, with managers implementing warnings and back-to-work interviews inconsistently.

The NAO has issued a 'could do better' warning and the department has agreed to start putting its recommendations into effect, including communicating its attendance policies to staff more effectively.

Sir John Bourn, NAO auditor general, said: 'There are no easy solutions. The department's absence rate is high and hasn't been improved by a new policy.'

Civil servant to take up strategy post at LGA

A career civil servant is to join the Local Government Association as its director of strategy.

Oona Muirhead, 48, head of the modernising rural delivery programme at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will join the association full time in April next year.

She will oversee both the association's strategy and communications in the £120,000-a-year role, which has been vacant since September.

Muirhead has spent most of her career within the Ministry of Defence, joining in 1979 and leaving for Defra just last year.

She has a wide range of experience. Posts include director of information strategy and news between 1997 and 2000, overseeing the government's media campaign during the crisis in Kosovo, and former political and financial adviser to the department's permanent secretary.

LGA chief executive Sir Brian Briscoe said: 'Her experience and mix of skills are ideally suited to the challenges ahead — the first of which will be to progress our campaign in the run-up to the general election.'


Did you enjoy this article?