Staffing, inefficiency and government waste

February 20, 2012 9:30 am

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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.

  • Sarah Cole

    Yes. (at home, reading this)

  • GuyM

    You do realise that when large scale redundancy programmes take place, business as usual (BAU) does go on, that life continues?

    And you do realise that invariably people leaving do not match up to BAU vacancies that arise in other parts of an organisation?

    You can’t just shoehorn people into jobs that don’t match their expertise, experience or expected income levels.

  • Jeremy_Preece

    Every time some one is made redundant and looses their jobs, there is a knock on effect in terms of their drop in spneding into the economy. Each lost job is one less tax payer and probably one more person on the dole.
    The bottom line is that the cuts do not add up, and they do not save money.
    This article shows two things. Firstly how damaging the cuts are, and secondly how this government is like a teenager with an axe, trying to perform surgery.

    In reality it shows that it is no more than an exercise in cutting the public sector because Tory ideaology states that public sector is bad, and it shows that the so called cuts don’t actually save any money. So the argument that there was no money left when Labour left office is obviously wrong since there is money for this!

    Just think what could have been achaived if this wasted money had been spent well.
    If Labour did a thing like this it would be all over the papers, but since this is a Tory exercise, the media editors will give the government an easy ride.

    • treborc

      Bit rich this from labour:

      Whilst there had been Special Advisers employed by Governments in the
      past, their numbers increased by a huge amount under Tony Blair, rising
      to a total of 80 in November 2001. Tony Blair had 29, mainly in the new
      Downing Street Policy Directorate and his Strategic Communications Unit.

      The bill for these Advisers was £4.4 million in 2001, making the
      average salary nearly £60,000. The total salary bill for Tony Blair’s
      private office was £10.8 million in 1999. The pay of most Advisers is
      kept secret, but it is known that both Alastair Campbell, Blair’s Press Secretary and Jonathan Powell, Downing Street Chief of Staff, were paid more than £120,000.

      Although such Advisers hold a huge amount of power, none of them
      are elected and very few of their jobs are advertised – they are all
      political appointees.

      Many former advisers to the Labour Party have moved on to very well-paid jobs with lobbying and PR companies.[3] Tim Allan, a former Downing Street Adviser, became Director of Corporate Communications for Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB. Anji Hunter, Tony Blair’s former ‘Gatekeeper’ private secretary, took over as Director of Communications at BP on a salary of £200,000.[4]

      • Jeremy_Preece

         My point is that at a time when the government feels the need to cut benefits from those dying of cancer, and wanting the unemployed to starve to make up every penny of the deficit, then bringing in new peers without portfolio and laying off MPs to make a more Tory-friendly voting system, and reduce elected representation for unelected ulta-right wing axe-men seems something of an unjustifiable use of public funds.

        • AlanGiles

          Jeremy, It is a great pity you will not admit that this benefit cutting from terminal cancer patients started under Labour when Purnell accepted all the Freud proposals.

          The Freud (labour) proposals were being forced through the HoC at the very time Freud decamped to the Tories in return for a peerage.

          It is a disgraceful measure for sure, but let’s not pretend Labour is innocent

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    Are departmental recruitment arrangements really determined by politicians?

    When Department of Health need a new employee is it the Minister or a Junior Minister ringing around placing the vacancy through a recruitment agency? Are they the ones deciding on recruitment arrangements?

    I would hope not, I would assume that such tasks have been delegated to a competent personnel department, therefore when money is spent inefficiently I would think that responsibility would lie with the same.

  • Alexwilliamz

    But they’d rather pay 35mill to an agency than into the associated benefits non agency staff cost. It think they also fit inot different columns in audits which is generally the real criteria for many ludicrous staffing decisions.

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