Unions' fury at 40,000 jobs cut in Civil Service

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Union leaders reacted angrily yesterday after Gordon Brown announced more than 40,000 civil service jobs would be cut over the next four years to free up billions of pounds for frontline public services.

Union leaders reacted angrily yesterday after Gordon Brown announced more than 40,000 civil service jobs would be cut over the next four years to free up billions of pounds for frontline public services.

The Chancellor said a further 20,000 jobs would be relocated out of London and the South-east in the near future.

Mr Brown said the estimated savings of £20bn a year would improve public services and target more cash in areas such as education, health, transport, defence and counter-terrorism.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the largest government department, will bear the brunt of the cuts, shrinking from 130,000 to 100,000 posts as its budget is trimmed by 5 per cent. The DWP is embroiled in a long-running dispute over pay and faces a fresh campaign of industrial action next month, including a 48-hour strike.

The Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise face a reduction of 10,500 posts and 1,460 jobs will be cut at the London headquarters of the Department for Education and Skills. Another 13,500 jobs across the three departments are to be redeployed. There will be a 31 per cent cut in headquarters staff at the DfES, freeing up resources for headteachers. The capital investment budget for English education will rise from £6bn next year to £8.1bn by 2008.

The scale of reductions will alarm civil servants in departments yet to be scrutinised by Sir Peter Gershon, who is conducting an efficiency review into the structure of government. A leaked draft of his conclusions suggested 80,000 of the 516,000 civil service jobs could vanish in a cull of Whitehall bureaucracy, eventually saving up to £15bn a year.

One civil servant said: "To hear Gordon Brown announce in the Commons that so many of us will lose our jobs is akin to telling someone by text that they will be made redundant."

The Public and Commercial Services union denounced the cuts as "a day of the long knives for public servants across the UK" and demanded an urgent meeting with ministers. Mark Serwotka, its general secretary, said: "For thousands of hard-working staff to hear that they are losing their jobs totally out of the blue without consultation is unacceptable.

"We are not against a more efficient Civil Service with more resources going to the front line but it is difficult to see how services will improve with such swingeing cuts."

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, said: "Central government provides essential services that enable us to deliver at local level. We would not want anything to happen that would undermine the cohesion of public services."

The First Division Association, which represents senior civil servants, expressed "considerable concern" at the cuts. Jonathan Baume, its general secretary, said: "The Government is proposing a radical restructuring of the civil service. The Chancellor's announcement goes considerably further than the plans we were already aware of.

"We will be insisting on urgent meetings with departments to consider the detail. No one should underestimate the implications of these cuts for individual civil servants at all grades. We see no justification whatsoever for any compulsory redundancies."

Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, added: "The announcement of civil service job losses had more to with shooting the opposition's fox than acting as a responsible employer."

Ruth Kelly, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, denied that unions had not been consulted. She told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "We will be working very closely with the unions from here on in to make sure that the process is managed with as great a level of sensitivity as possible."

Mr Brown said Whitehall departments will have to cut administration budgets by at least 5 per cent by 2008. He said Whitehall's administration costs averaged 5 per cent during the 1980s, rising to 5.7 per cent in the early 1990s, but would fall to 3.7 per cent within four years. He said he was accepting the conclusions of a cost-cutting review by Sir Michael Lyons that recommended 20,000 posts be moved from Whitehall immediately.

He suggested government jobs could be relocated to York, Derby, Cardiff, Exeter, Milton Keynes, Norwich and Birmingham. He envisaged a further 40,000 moving out of the South-east over the next few years.

A spokeswoman said that there would be natural wastage and voluntary redundancies, but could not rule out compulsory job losses.