An unevenly wielded axe
This is not an era of job security for civil servants. The National Audit Office (NAO) notes that 114,000 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) staff from the civil service are expected to leave between 2010 and 2015 – a reduction of 23%. Our latest Whitehall Monitor report shows that there has already been a reduction of 9% FTE of civil servants since the Spending Review with the core ‘Whitehall’ parts of departments experiencing cuts of 11.1%. But is the pain in SW1 being spread evenly?
All departments had their administration budgets – which cover ‘back office’ and staff costs – cut by a third in the last Spending Review. But departments have taken very different approaches to meet this challenge – particularly on the issue of staff reductions.
Within Whitehall, DCLG leads the pack, shedding over a quarter of its staff since the Spending Review. In contrast, DECC has been recruiting. It has increased its Whitehall footprint by nearly 10% over the same period.
The chart below shows the wide range of reductions made within Whitehall since the Spending Review. Unfortunately it doesn’t include the big beasts of MoD and DWP which do not report the core ‘Whitehall’ parts of the department separately from their operational arms like Job Centre Plus.
But as interesting as the scale of change is, the latest set of figures also highlight another emerging difference – direction of travel. Though overall Whitehall continues to reduce, seven departments have seen increases to their core department figures since the last quarter (see the pink arrows on chart below comparing the direction of travel from last quarter).
This might just be a one-off related to institutional changes (eg bringing functions in house) or a temporary blip before the downward trend resumes. But if it is an early warning of a reversal, it would put at risk the savings from the civil service staff reductions. The NAO reports today that £600m, was paid to early leavers in the last year. For that to offer value for the money to the taxpayer, those reductions need to be sustained. That means departments need to have been clear that they were retaining the people with the skills they need for the way they want to do business in the future. If instead, departments have to re-enter the recruitment market, much of that spending will go to waste.