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Labour Insiders Fear Keir Starmer's Make-Or-Break Conference Could Be Overshadowed By Job Losses

4 min read

Labour’s plan to axe 90 jobs as part of a bid to save £5m in costs could overshadow Keir Starmer’s pivotal conference next month, according to staffers.

Starmer’s appearance at the Brighton conference has been touted as a make or break moment for the leader, but Labour insiders believe it could now coincide with employees being thrown into a compulsory redundancy process if a threshold for voluntary redundacies is not met before the end of the summer.

Labour general secretary David Evans shared details of the voluntary redundancy scheme with 300 staff during a call on Tuesday, which staff have said indicated a timeline of how the next few months are likely to play out for employees.

“Realistically they’re not going to get 90 redundancies from this process so what comes next will be forced," one disheartened Labour staffer said. 

They believed a compulsory redundancy process could begin before conference, due to take place at the end of September.

Labour have said that there are no formal discussions about compulsory redunancy going on at the moment.

Staff have until 31 August to confirm whether they would accept a voluntary severance quote on offer. The party’s plan to shed 90 jobs would be about one quarter of the total workforce.

Labour sources said Evans told those on the call that he wanted to see a “ruthless, streamlined, campaigning” party in the future, under a restructuring process called Organise To Win.

An email seen by PoliticsHome showed staffers would be offered a minimum payment of £5,000 and four weeks pay for each year of service, up from three weeks for each year of service following negotiations with unions. 

But if a total of 90 staff eligible for the voluntary redundacy scheme do not accept the offer by 31 August, there is concern among staff that a compulsory redundancy process could be triggered, sources said. 

“This was already going to be a tricky conference and having the unions on side is massive and this has done nothing to improve this relationship when things are already difficult," one staffer told PoliticsHome. 

“This is the most important moment for Keir Starmer to date. He needs to get headlines out of conference and people working for it." They added that it would not be ideal to be heading into conference with a compulsory redundancy process underway. 

Labour has recently faced significant financial outlay. Last year the party was forced to make a string of legal payments, including a six-figure sum to seven former employees and BBC journalist John Ware after admitting it defamed them following a Panorama investigation into its handling of antisemitism.

Staffing and legal costs are understood to make up the bulk of the party’s budget, according to those who watched Evans’ presentation.

Under Starmer’s leadership the party has also received less money than former leader Jeremy Corbyn did from the union Unite. The party has also faced the financial burden of fighting three general elections in six years.

Labour sources said that during the presentation held on Tuesday, the general secretary also detailed how they will move to model of centralisation but giving regional offices more decision-making control with a new “hub and spoke” model.

One insider said the call was “bleak” and left some staff feeling low, but that Evans had provided a lot of information of exactly where the party is financially.

“It was good to finally get the actual information rather than rumours. They’ve also listened to the union demands, which is good,” they said.

The community organising unit set up under Corbyn has also disbanded in earlier attempts to save money.

After the Batley by-election win for Labour, it was thought Starmer may have bought some time from critics of his performance as leader and the party’s direction. He also looked set for a summer of relative stability, with him finally able to embark on a long-planned tour of the UK to meet prospective voters after being largely confined to London under lockdown travel rules.

But the announcement of the redundancy process has not been the “nicest start to the summer,” one staffer said.

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