Labour Compares Government To P&O Ferries Over Plan To Cut 91,000 Civil Service Jobs
The government have been accused of acting like P&O ferries over the plans to cut 91,000 jobs in the civil service (Alamy)
Shadow minister for employment rights and protections Justin Madders has compared the government's decision to axe 91,000 civil service jobs to shamed ferry contractor P&O Ferries's recent sacking of hundreds of staff without warning.
Madders said ministers should “treat the people who do incredibly difficult jobs with a little bit more respect” after plans to cut 91,000 Whitehall jobs over the next three years were leaked to the media last week.
In March, P&O Ferries cancelled contracts with 800 workers without notice, a decision the ferry firm’s boss Peter Hebblethwaite admitted to MPs broke the law.
Speaking on this week’s episode of PoliticsHome’s podcast The Rundown, Madders drew comparison to the incident, which he noted the government was “very quick to condemn” and said they should “actually start listening to their own advice a bit more”.
But a government source rejected the comparison, saying "a hiring freeze is not the same as no-notice sackings".
Minister have said that the plan to cut civil service staff is needed to bring the workforce back down to a pre-2016 headcount, and that it will aim to balance voluntarily exiting staff with a recruitment freeze rather than reach the 91,000 figure with redundancies alone.
But Madders was dismissive of this justification which he said sounded like it was "plucked out of thin air" and lacking in detail.
“This seems like it's just a figure that's been plucked out of thin air and hasn't actually got any detail, and actually it is about generating newspaper headlines, rather than any strategic approach to the demands of government,” he said.
Madders believed “every element of the public sector is really struggling”, pointing to recent stories about huge delays at the passport office, on issuing driving licenses, and at HMRC.
“It's pretty clear actually, some departments are seriously overstretched,” he added.
“The idea you can take a fifth of these departments and not have any more impact on service delivery is really just pie in the sky.”After a period of retrenchment in the early 2010s the number of civil servants began to grow again after the Brexit vote in 2016, and then further in 2020 as Whitehall tried to deal with the pandemic.
Madders insisted that returning the civil service to its 2016 levels over the next three years in not
“I think history shows you when a government sets an arbitrary target, that sooner or later, reality catches up, and they have to change tack," he said.
“The employment market is pretty competitive at the moment, and if this isn't done in the right way, you will lose a lot of talented people.”
The plans come amid a wider move by the government to shake up Whitehall culture post-pandemic. Jacob Rees-Mogg has launched a personal crusade against civil servants working from home, despite having previously backed flexible working, including making unannounced visits to departments to check on how many civil servants are at their desks. He has even left notes on desks that read: “I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon.”
Culture secretary Nadine Dorries described the move as “Dickensian”, while Labour leader Keir Starmer compared Rees-Mogg, the government efficiency minister, to an “overgrown prefect”.
Madders said pushing against flexible working and forcing people back to the office full-time is “outdated”, and risks damaging morale in the civil service.
He said before he was an MP he used to commute for three hours a day, and that his life would have been so much better if he’d had some of that time back though not having to travel to work.
“The idea that you have to be chained to your desk, Monday to Friday, nine to five is I think outdated,” the MP added.
“It doesn’t work, and I don't think there is any evidence to show that that is the future. The more that ministers try to create catchy headlines by fighting against working from home the more out of touch they look.”
A government spokesperson told PoliticsHome that while Boris Johnson "is incredibly grateful to the civil service for the outstanding job they do”, because of the cost of living crisis, "the public rightly expect their government to lead by example and to run as efficiently as possible”.
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