EXCL Civil service chief urged to block Jeremy Hunt’s threat to axe Whitehall holidays over no-deal Brexit

Posted On: 
1st July 2019

Civil service bosses have been urged to step in after Jeremy Hunt threatened to block summer holidays for government workers if Whitehall’s no-deal Brexit plans are not in place.

The Foreign Secretary has vowed to scrap all leave in Whitehall in August if departments’ no-deal plans have are not “on track”.
Credit: 
PA

Union Prospect has written to Whitehall’s head of human resources demanding “reassurances” that Mr Hunt’s pledge to axe annual leave for staff over a no-deal Brexit does not go ahead.

Mr Hunt said in a speech on Monday: “All government departments will be expected to act on the basis that we are leaving without a deal on 31 October.

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"All August leave will be cancelled unless I have a signed letter from the relevant permanent secretary saying that all preparations in his or her department are on time and on track."

But Garry Graham, whose union represents managers, engineers and specialists working in the civil service, has urged Rupert McNeil, the Government's HR boss, to step in and ensure there is “no blanket or wide scale ban on civil servants taking leave over the summer”.

And the Prospect deputy general secretary has warned that the proposal from the Foreign Secretary could hit civil servants with children the hardest by “snatching” away long-planned summer getaways.

In a letter to the senior Cabinet Office official - seen by PoliticsHome - Mr Graham says the Tory leadership contender’s plan “shows a startling lack of understanding of the breadth of work undertaken by the civil service”.

He adds: “In tone it also demonstrates a fundamental lack of appreciation and understanding of how hard civil servants have been working to support this government.

“With the House of Commons rising on 25 July and to return on 3 September, even the suggestion that civil servants will have a well-earned break snatched away over the summer smacks of hypocrisy and double standards.

“We are seeking your assurance that there will be no blanket or wide scale ban on civil servants taking leave over the summer. This would particularly affect people with school-age children whose only opportunity to go on holiday is when the schools are off. Cancelling leave could also have a significant cost associated where unexpected caring arrangements have to be made.”

While Mr Graham says the civil service would be open to “isolated incidents” of having to cancel leave, the union boss calls for “assurance that that would be on a voluntary basis” and says any officials who do shelve their holiday plans for no-deal work should “be recompensed both in terms of time and any out of pocket expenses”.

And he adds: “I am sure that you will understand that it is galling for our civil servant members to have their ability to take leave over the summer called into question.

“The taking of leave has always been subject to operational demands but the statement made by Jeremy Hunt smacks more of political posturing than a clear minded understanding of the challenges the UK currently faces, which are largely political.”

‘ARTIFICIAL DEADLINE’

Mr Hunt’s vow to axe leave in Whitehall departments has already been slammed by the civil service’s other two unions, who have branded it “ludicrous” and “arbitrary”.

Earlier, FDA general secretary Dave Penman, whose members include government workers in the top ranks of the civil service, hit out at the “macho” plan.

"The idea that you’d cancel the annual leave of 400,000 civil servants in August - 95% of whom are not involved in Brexit preparations - having given permanent secretaries a couple of weeks’ notice of this artificial deadline is simply ludicrous,” he told PolHome.

Mr Penman added: "Whether this gets Jeremy Hunt elected as leader of the Conservative party I’m unable to judge, but its not doing much to demonstrate he knows how to run the country."

And the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, whose members include tens of thousands of frontline civil servants, dismissed the proposal as "utterly ludicrous".

General secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The Government’s handling of Brexit has been shambolic and civil servants have stepped up to the plate on numerous occasions and done their best to prepare for all eventualities.

“Our members working in job centres and other government departments are not responsible for the mess inflicted on them and the country by the sheer incompetence of ministers.

“They will not put up with their leave being cancelled.”

‘TASK FORCE’

The row came as Mr Hunt - who has insisted he would only pursue a no-deal Brexit "with a heavy heart" - unveiled plans to set up a new Cabinet 'task force' in a bid to hold officials' feet to the fire over planning for a hard exit in case a deal with the EU cannot be struck.

The new body would, he said, be tasked with rooting out "any areas where government preparations are insufficient", he said, as well as leading on financial support for industries hit by tariffs under a no-deal.

The Foreign Secretary also pledged to set up a £6bn no-deal fund to help ease the impact of a hard exit on the farming and agricultural sectors.

Mr Hunt said: "We spent just over £1 trillion bailing out the banks after the financial crisis. So if we did it for the bankers then why wouldn’t we do it what is needed for our fishermen and our farmers now?"

The Foreign Secretary’s Conservative campaign team have been approached for comment.