PCS: 100 days of attacks – What has the new government done?

An overview

Since forming a coalition government on Tuesday 11 May, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have wasted no time in slashing public services and vilifying public servants.

One of the government’s first acts was to announce that £6.25 billion in public spending would be cut immediately. This was trailed in the media as simply cutting back on the use of first-class travel, glossy advertising and IT contracts.

In reality, it meant the abolition of several government agencies including the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and Becta, both based in Coventry and employing more than 800 staff between them, and damaging cuts at others.

Then in June, the chancellor George Osborne presented one of the most regressive budgets in living memory, with a package of cuts that targeted the most vulnerable in our communities – low-paid workers, disabled people, and those entitled to benefits and tax credits.

At the same time as saying VAT would increase to 20% next January – something the Lib Dems fiercely campaigned against in the run-up to the election – Osborne announced a two-year freeze for public sector workers earning more than £21,000 a year. Those earning £21,000 or less will receive an annual rise of £250, but this is still a below inflation increase, and is against the backdrop of years of successive cuts in the value of civil service pay. Since 2007, basic pay in the civil service has increased by only 6.5%, while inflation by 10%, meaning a real cut in living standards.

Making up 68% of the public sector workforce, women will be disproportionately affected by job cuts. Cuts to the Sure Start maternity grant, abolition of health in pregnancy grant, and the three-year freeze on child benefit are also direct attacks on women. By law, the government should carry out and publish equality impact assessments on all these cuts, to assess the likely effects on people in respect of disability, gender and race, and remove any adverse impact to avoid unlawful discrimination.

The government has also announced it will cut significant levels of support for the regions, with plans to abolish the Government Office Network and close or significantly reduce funding for Regional Development Agencies.

Rather than cutting jobs, the government should be creating them to stimulate growth.

All this, we are told, is to help tackle the UK’s budget deficit and comes before the next spending review, to be announced on 20 October, where departmental cuts of between 25% and 40% are being demanded by the government. But we do not accept that the answer is to cut public spending – cuts now would seriously risk plunging our economy into further economic crisis and present the real possibility of a double-dip recession. Rather than cutting jobs, the government should be creating them to stimulate growth.

We believe there is a better, more effective, alternative to what would be devastating cuts and a dismantling of the welfare state – including investment in public services, collecting the £120 billion of tax that is lost each year, and scrapping plans to replace the Trident nuclear missile system, which would save billions of pounds.

Mark Serwotka Janice Godrich
General secretary National President


100 days of attacks

Business

Up to 450 job cuts under threat in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as the department and its partner organisations make cuts of £836 million in this financial year.

Partner agency cuts include further savings of £5.9 million at Acas, on top of the £2.9 million budget cuts already agreed this year. This will have a significant impact on the services Acas provides and on staffing.

At Companies House, an immediate 11% cut in the budget included a pay freeze imposed before the June budget announcement. A satellite office in Nantgarw, near Caerphilly, is to close and 250 staff to be relocated to the main office in Cardiff.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Insolvency Service and the Intellectual Property Office have all seen an 11% cut, and cuts of £10 million from this year’s admin budget at the Skills Funding Agency threatens up to 250 jobs.


Culture

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced it would contribute £61 million to the £6.25 billion cuts. On top of this, the department is working with the Olympic Delivery Authority to cut a further £27 million from the Olympics budget.

All the major museums and galleries were contacted directly by new culture minister Ed Vaizey to be told that 3% had been taken out of their current budgets with immediate effect.

All are reviewing or deferring building capital works, including a major extension at the British Museum and plans to extend Tate Modern.


Defence

On 13 August defence secretary Liam Fox repeated his intention to cut civilian staff under the strategic defence and security review.

Civilian numbers have already been cut by 22% over the last six years when troops have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and further cuts will seriously damage the support available to the frontline.

Since the last defence spending review in 1998, military posts have increased by 4.7%, while civilian posts have been reduced by 35%.

At the same time, the costs of defence private finance initiatives are forecast to consume £1.5 billion of the defence budget this year on contracts of up to 40 years.


Education

As part of the £6.25 billion cuts, the government announced the abolition of the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, which employs 500 staff in Coventry. More than 100 staff had only recently relocated to the city from London, at a cost of more than £44 million.

The abolition of Becta was announced at the same time, affecting 235 staff, also in Coventry. The agency operates as an independent charitable business so staff are not covered by the civil service pension scheme or the civil service compensation scheme.

Taken with the abolition of QCDA, it raises fears about where 800 skilled people will find a job in a city of 300,000.

Coventry City Council believes the initial round of job losses could result in £25 million being lost to an already fragile local economy. Ultimately, the council fears as many as 10,000 jobs could be lost in the city – resulting in a loss of £250 million, almost equivalent to the annual budget of the city council.

The General Teaching Council will also be abolished. There is a possibility that some work will go to the private sector.


Environment

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced it would contribute £162 million to the first wave of £6.25 billion cuts.

It has since announced it will cut the Sustainable Development Commission, which employs 45 staff, at the end of the financial year and abolish the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.

At the same time, it announced the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, plus the 15 agricultural wages committees, the 16 agricultural dwelling house advisory committees and the committee on agricultural valuation. Also abolished are the Commission for Rural Communities, with 80 staff, and the Inland Waterways Advisory Council.

There are also fears that the department is planning to privatise parts of the Forestry Commission and the Met Office, withdraw grants to British Waterways, and make deep cuts at the Environment Agency and Natural England, where 800 jobs could be at risk over the next two years.


Equality

The Equality and Human Rights Commission was told in June it had to cut 15% from its £60 million budget this year. The cuts will leave the commission unable to properly fulfil its functions to monitor, promote and enforce equality across government and in wider society.

This comes as the government faces a potential legal challenge from the Fawcett Society over the disproportionate impact chancellor George Osborne’s first budget will have on women.


Immigration and asylum

The UK Border Agency’s contribution to the £6.25 billion cuts was £367 million. As well as a recruitment freeze, limits on agency staff and consultants, and reviewing IT projects over £1 million, the agency is seeking 1,700 job cuts within the year.


Justice

The Ministry of Justice announced it would cut £325 million this year, mainly through the cancellation of capital projects including at Birmingham Magistrates’ Courts and Glen Parva youth offenders institution, as well as a recruitment freeze, limits on agency staff and consultants, the review of IT projects.

HM Courts Service has announced a three-month consultation on the closure of 157 (of 530) magistrates’ and county courts, with a view to saving £15.3 million a year and £20 million on maintenance. Staff are based in more than 90 of the 157 courts earmarked for closure.

In July, a document leaked from the Crown Prosecution Service showed officials were warning cuts of 25% would lead to 1,820 job losses – 22% of the total staff – over the next four years.

Then in what was the first major indication of the impact of the cuts being demanded by the coalition government, MoJ staff were notified the department was planning to cut its £9 billion budget by £2 billion – this would be the equivalent of the budget for prisons, or the money the department spends each year on courts and tribunals.


Policing

The government announced in July it will scrap the National Policing Improvement Agency and incorporate the work of the Serious Organised Crime Agency and Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre into a new National Crime Agency. This decision was taken without any consultation with those working within these organisations.

The announcement on SOCA raises questions about how serious organised crime will be tackled, and the danger is that the only winners will be criminals, as officers’ attention is diverted and staff morale drops.

The NPIA undertakes important work for the police including maintaining the national fingerprint database, the DNA database and the police national computer database.


Regions

Following the initial announcement that the Government Office for London would be abolished, communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles announced plans in July to scrap the whole Government Office Network, employing 1,700 staff.

This decision was taken without any consultation with those who will be affected and puts at risk the vital services the offices provide, including child protection and co-ordinating responses to natural disasters.

The Government Offices have built up expertise and strong working relationships with charities and local authorities at a regional level, and removing them will make it more difficult and more expensive to deliver these services.

There are plans to abolish the Regional Development Agencies, but as part of the £6.25 billion of cuts, they were told to save a total of £270 million this year, almost 20% of the RDAs’ combined budget of £1.4 billion.

The breakdown of cuts was: One North East – £32 million; Yorkshire Forward – £40.3 million; North West RDA – £52 million; Advantage West Midlands – £37.1 million; East Midlands Development Agency – £28.3 million; East of England Development Agency – £23.3 million; South of England Development Agency – £23.3 million; South West RDA – £27.8 million.


Revenue and Customs

This year’s contribution to the £6.25 billion cuts is £125 million. We have been told that the headcount reductions already in place will continue, with staff numbers reducing from 69,000 to 64,500 by March 2011. This is against the backdrop of 20,000 job cuts in the department since 2006.


Work and pensions

The Department for Work and Pensions’ share of this year’s cuts was £535 million, with £335 million claimed as a ‘saving’ from the abolition of the Future Jobs Fund and ending employer subsidies. The rest of this cut falls on staffing, IT projects, and ‘discretionary spending’ including research and marketing.

DWP has announced Jobcentre Plus staffing will be cut to 76,500 during the year having peaked at 84,500 in January 2010, the actual share from clawing back frontline staffing costs will be in excess of £100 million.



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