Launching the report, committee member Richard Bacon MP warned: “Although departments have moved quickly to reduce staff numbers, few appear to be giving thought to how they are going to operate permanently with a lower number of staff. ”
Among the report’s findings were:
- departments do not have long-term plans in place for new ways of working with fewer staff
- there is a lack of information to show what effect the lower number of staff is having on departmental performance and service standards, with ‘significant risks to delivery’
- further staff reductions will be more challenging to deliver than those achieved so far
- performance appraisal information is not good enough to inform individual early departure decisions, and reporting standards should be improved.
Prospect deputy general secretary Dai Hudd said: “Here is yet another report saying there are key problems with civil service skills – and that these rushed cuts and ill-thought-through attempts to save money will not be sustainable.
“In May another PAC report painted a bleak picture of rock bottom morale and the loss of essential expertise in the Ministry of Defence, where key projects have already been stalled, increasing the risks to our armed forces.
“Prospect has been pressing departments to carry out skills audits over a number of years to ensure they can retain scarce skills before it’s too late. But so far we have been ignored. The current haphazard approach simply means the civil service will have to buy in the skills and capabilities that are being shed in such cavalier fashion.”
The PAC report says departments have acted quickly to deliver a headcount reduction of 35,000 in 2011, nearly 18,000 of these through early departures. MOD has taken the brunt, with headcount numbers falling from 84,000 (January 2011) to 75,000 (January 2012), a collapse which has accelerated this year, with the 3,500 paid releases in 2011 followed quickly by a further 4,000 in the first half of 2012.
Just this week Prospect received a proposal from MOD to recruit a temporary civil servant to undertake work on the Civil Service Reform plans, because no one is available with the required skills – even though this is a priority area for Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.
Even while laying people off, Defence Equipment and Support is planning to recruit up to 900 technical specialists and there has been an explosion in MOD consultancy spend.
“Today’s report shows the stupidity of pressing ahead with cuts driven by headcount targets, rather than business need, and without the benefit of workforce planning,” said Hudd. “MOD is just one example of what is happening in organisations across the civil service.
“Behind this cynical numbers exercise are real people providing a real service, whose vital talents are being lost, while our political leaders fail to confront the country’s long-term economic problems. This chaos will continue until the government gets to grips with defining the skills it needs in the modern civil service, something Prospect has raised repeatedly with ministers and will continue to do.”
• Prospect is encouraging all members in both the public and private sectors to join the TUC’s March for a Future that Works on October 20 and those in Scotland to join the Scottish TUC’s demonstration on the same day in Glasgow.