Job fears for 10,000 civil servants

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THOUSANDS of civil servants could lose their jobs as part of a plan to create 'super-ministries' in the English regions.

In an attempt to cut costs, avoid duplication and provide a 'one-stop shop' for the business community, the Department of the Environment is masterminding a merger of its regional functions with those of the Departments of Trade and Industry, Employment and Transport.

The plans have been delayed because of squabbles between departments, but are due to be announced later this month. Some senior Whitehall officials are annoyed that budgets for the reorganised government offices, worth billions of pounds, will be disbursed directly from the Treasury rather than through their own ministries.

There are major concentrations of staff from the four ministries in Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds and Birmingham, which are the targets for the reorganisation, and there are also large numbers in Nottingham.

The strategy would involve the appointment of powerful regional directors who would take over some of the functions of Whitehall mandarins. The plan was foreshadowed in the Conservatives' general election manifesto.

An announcement later this month is unlikely to involve the disclosure of job losses, but the long-term plan will be to bring the departments on to single sites and to slim down sections that are common to the four ministries. Unions fear that up to 10,000 jobs could be at risk.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment yesterday denied that the civil servants appointed to oversee the new regional offices would police local authority spending. But Jack Straw, Labour's environment spokesman, called on the Prime Minister to abandon an idea he called a French-style 'prefecture' and the creation of a new breed of 'Whitehall commissar'.

Sir Peter Kemp, the former permanent secretary who oversaw much of the Government's civil service reforms, attacked the measure as misguided. 'It cuts across the way the Civil Service is aiming towards running itself on vertical lines with managers looking after individual products,' Sir Peter said, adding that he could see no need for the further reorganisation.