Whitehall focus Browns PBR underestimated job cuts at DWP

15 Dec 05
The Department for Work and Pensions this week released details of the job cuts it has overseen as part of the Gershon review totals that surpass figures in the 2005 Pre-Budget Report.

16 December 2005

The Department for Work and Pensions this week released details of the job cuts it has overseen as part of the Gershon review – totals that surpass figures in the 2005 Pre-Budget Report.

Officials acted quickly to clarify the confusion following Chancellor Gordon Brown's PBR statement on December 5, which many experts understood to have outlined DWP job reductions totalling 10,000.

Latest figures, compiled in the period to September, indicate that the DWP has cut 14,250 of the 30,000 posts it must remove by 2008 as part of its multibillion pound savings drive.

Brown's Treasury team accepts that figure, but instead chose to focus his PBR statement on 10,000 posts that have been cut since January, rather than outline the total number of posts cut since Gershon's 2004 report.

However, some of the DWP's corporate teams have increased since the Gershon report was published. Its finance group, including accountants, has increased by 313 staff – despite Gershon's focus on cutting 'back office' staff.

A DWP spokeswoman told Public Finance that was due to a simultaneous restructuring plan that pooled skilled posts centrally, rather than disperse them across agencies.

As expected, the majority of the posts cut – 8,066 – are at JobcentrePlus offices.

JobcentrePlus reduced its staff from 80,897 in March 2004 to 72,831 by September. The pension service cut 4,748 posts over the same period.

The troubled Child Support Agency, which is under ministerial review amid calls for it to be closed, has abolished 650 posts, despite a freeze on cutting frontline staff while the agency clears a backlog of work.

The DWP spokeswoman said that the CSA cuts were achieved through 'natural wastage – largely through retirements and axing posts once an individual leaves the agency, where their workload can successfully be redistributed'.

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Office has revealed that government departments and agencies in the province have cut 766 posts this year as part of a separate efficiency programme.

Following the NIO's 2004 Fit for Purpose review, which assessed the administration needs of the local civil service, the Department for Social Development has cut 267 posts.

Other departments that have slashed significant numbers include Agriculture and Rural Development (160), Finance and Personnel (137), and Regional Development (102).

Strike action threatens to shut magistrates courts

Magistrates courts could be forced to close next week when two civil service trades unions, representing more than 7,000 staff, stage walk-outs over a disputed pay deal.

The Public and Commercial Services and Prospect unions, which represent administration and specialist staff working across the Courts Service, have announced a 24-hour strike for December 20. It will be the first national strike across the magistrates' courts service in its 800-year history.

The PCS, whose members voted 80% in favour of a walk-out, said it was likely that it would lead to the closure of courts and offices, because it would leave magistrates without access to administrative support and specialist advice on proceedings.

A Department for Constitutional Affairs spokeswoman told Public Finance it had made 'contingency plans to ensure that vital services, such as urgent family court hearings, would continue to operate throughout any strike'.

The move follows a deadlock over the 2005 pay deal, which has never formally been submitted by the DCA. The department claims it offered staff a provisional 3.7% pay rise in August, but the unions said such a deal would represent a below-inflation 'cost of living' increase of 2.2%.

A PCS spokesman said the additional 1.5% offered by the DCA was part of a commitment to harmonise departmental pay following the merger this year of magistrates staff into the wider Courts Service. Both unions claim the CS has encountered financial difficulties relating to start-up costs.

The DCA spokeswoman later confirmed to PF that some magistrates staff would receive total pay rises of 2.2%, while others could receive up to 5% under the proposed deal.

Over half of magistrates' administration staff in London earn below £14,000 annually.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: 'Low pay is a major factor throughout the courts. Staff are no longer prepared to see their pay devalued with below-inflation cost of living increases.'

Prospect national secretary Alan Leighton cited the DCA's 'unwillingness to take [staff] grievances seriously'.


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