At a time when hard-working families are tightening their belts, efficiency should be one of the Government’s top priorities. Instead, the Tory-led Government is wasting huge amounts of money by simultaneously spending tens of millions of pounds on redundancies and while also spending millions on recruiting new staff. On top of this many departments are wasting money by using back-door channels to secure additional staff through multi-million pound recruitment agencies.
Following a series of parliamentary questions it has become clear that the Government’s approach to manpower planning is chaotic and unstructured.
Across Whitehall civil servants are being laid off, costing the tax-payer nearly £90 million in redundancy pay in the last quarter alone. If this scale of payments continues, over the lifetime of the parliament the tax payer will have to foot a bill of over £1 billion in redundancy payments.
Yet, despite these cuts, last week, for example, nearly a thousand jobs are being advertised on the Civil Service website. One quick trawl revealed on one day the total value of posts being advertised stood at over £27 million in annual salaries, including a number of posts with basic salaries of over £120,000 per year.
More worryingly, the Government are engaging in further wasteful practices by recruiting agency workers throughout Whitehall. The scale of this practice is enormous. Indeed, the central civil service alone is paying employment agency fees of over £30 million in a single quarter.
In some cases there were surprising results. Last quarter, the Wales and Northern Ireland Offices between them paid retainer fees of nearly £25,000 and yet astonishingly they only recruited two employees between them. This is a scandalous waste of taxpayers money at a time when the Government claims it is trying to cut the deficit.
Over-use of such agencies can ultimately only damage the public sector ethos of service by casualisng the workforce.The British system traditionally had high standards of loyalty, an ethos of neutrality and public service. Agency workers are often temporary and are usually employed on lower incomes, with worse terms and conditions than permanent employees.
Of course, if back-office staffing posts can be reduced in the name of genuine efficiency improvements, then they should be. Indeed when in Government Labour’s crackdown on waste freed up £21.5 billion to improve frontline services.
But it simply makes no financial sense to pay public servants to leave, while simultaneously paying others to join the service. More enlightened personnel practice would introduce a properly managed redeployment process whereby posts which need to be re-filled are ring-fenced and advertised within the service when they become vacant. It would save redundancy costs and show that the Government is committed to personnel practices which are both professional and just.
However civil servants make up only one tenth of all public sector employees. The Office of Budget Responsibility has estimated that in the wider public sector, 710,000 public employees will be laid off. It is likely therefore that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of redundancy costs. Indeed, last week we learned that the much reviled Health and Social Care Bill will now cost an extra £660 million as a result of the Government making hard-working NHS employees redundant.
The truth is that the Tory-led Government’s package of swingeing cuts is now increasingly acknowledged as being the wrong approach; they are cutting too far and too fast and doing lasting damage to our economy. What has not been fully understood until now is just how wasteful and inefficient such knee-jerk policies actually are.
In their ideological haste to downsize the state and attempt to reduce its expenditure the Tory-led Government are costing the country dear, not just financially, but in skills, morale and expertise. Their attempts to reduce the cost of the public sector are simply the latest in a long line of policy blunders that have already damaged the morale, professionalism and expertise of the public services on which Britain has relied on and been so proud.
Jon Trickett MP is the shadow cabinet office secretary.