Ministry for jobs looks likely to shed 3,000 staff

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The Independent Online
THE government department which recently described itself as 'the department of employment rather than the department of unemployment' is likely to make more than 3,000 civil servants redundant next year, according to a confidential memorandum.

An internal paper circulated to 30 of the most senior officials in the Department of Employment says the posts are at risk because of the impending end to secondments outside Whitehall and the introduction of private contractors. The department believes the figure could exceed 3,000 as a result of cuts in public expenditure and organisational reviews, particularly in the Employment Service.

The paper calls for a tough policy whereby employees are forced to switch jobs and move to another part of the country where necessary, even where their contracts only allow for this in extremis.

Both Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Employment, and Sir Geoffrey Holland, Permanent Secretary and the most senior official, have said recently of the ministry: 'We are not the department of unemployment, we are the department of employment.' The department is responsible for paying out unemployment benefit, but also for training the jobless and guiding them back into work.

One of the big problems faced by the department is the thousands of civil servants who were seconded to the 82 Training and Enterprise Councils in England and Wales and the 22 Local Enterprise Companies in Scotland.

Orginally they were part of the Government's Training Education and Enterprise Directorate, but became part of the administrative staff of the new TEC and LEC system.

Senior officials estimate that 2,000 secondees may have to be redeployed within the department over the next two years, although there could be more. Restructuring in the Employment Service could mean a number of posts being downgraded from higher executive officer to executive officer.

The paper says the Government is trying to negotiate a phased return of civil servants from the TECs. Another way round the problem would be to ensure that successful bidders for contracts take on civil servants.

Tony Gallagher, national officer of the National Union of Civil and Public Servants, said management negotiators had made it clear there would be surpluses of staff in 1993-94 which would be exacerbated by public exenditure curbs. 'If the memorandum talks of 3,000 job losses, that could be an underestimate.'

Mr Gallagher said taxpayers would have to pay twice for those who left the state-funded TECs: 'Once to pay for their replacements and secondly to fund redundancy payments when the Department of Employment declare them surplus to requirements.'

He added: 'The job losses will be at a cost, both to the Exchequer in terms of redundancy money and to the country as a whole in terms of the training infrastructure. The whole episode is a nightmare.'

The Department of Employment said the figures in the internal document were speculative. The paper made clear there was potential for redeployment and there would also be an expansion of posts in other areas of the department, which employs 60,000.