Defeat over civil service Bill averted

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THE Government averted a possible defeat in the House of Lords last night when it agreed to look again at the wording of a Bill on civil service management to allay civil servants' fears that their pay and conditions could be set by private firms, writes Stephen Goodwin.

Although Earl Howe, a junior minister, complained of 'scaremongering' when peers considered the Civil Service (Management Functions) Bill, he conceded that there were 'some problems of definition'. He also admitted that the introduction of the Bill might have appeared 'rather sudden' to civil service unions. 'With hindsight, the Government recognises that it might have been helpful to take the unions into its confidence sooner.'

The Bill gives the Treasury and the Minister for the Civil Service power to delegate management tasks to other Crown servants. Earl Howe said that the vast majority of delegations would be to ministers and agency chief executives. He insisted the measure had no bearing on market testing or contracting out, and did not allow a private sector employer to determine civil servants' terms and conditions.