Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/402/4579
Defending civil service jobs
NEW LABOUR'S civil service cuts programme is in crisis. Up to seventy civil service IT projects have received secret "red warnings" (potentially set to fail) according to the Public Accounts Committee. This is on top of the computer failures that have so far occurred - Tax Credits payments, immigration and national insurance records, Criminal Records Bureau and in the Child Support Agency and Jobcentre Plus.
John McInally, Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) National Executive Committee, personal capacity
When Gordon Brown announced 104,000 civil service job cuts last year, he was warned by PCS that his programme would result in service delivery failures. His 'modernisation' programme is based on driving out 'inefficiency' by installing new IT systems, centralising processes and setting up call centre networks. Also, encouraging use of electronic communication while reducing frontline services, slashing and privatising 'backroom' functions, office closures, relocation of work and privatisation.
All this is being driven by a government of 'enterprise' junkies who are hooked on an anti-public sector neo-liberal agenda that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, asserts the private sector delivers best.
New Labour is encouraging its private sector friends to enrich themselves by fleecing taxpayers of hundreds of millions of pounds for providing computer systems that are riddled with problems, and which allows them to rake in millions more to put them right.
'Consultants' are paid hundreds of millions to provide useless 'reports' stating the blindingly obvious. One such company recently pocketed £1 million from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by "revealing" staff needed to be better trained - a fact pointed out for free by PCS when management were warned cutting training provision would cause problems. You couldn't make it up!
Hardworking and committed civil servants bear the brunt of New Labour's failing strategy. In Jobcentres reports of assaults and abusive behaviour aimed at staff are increasing as services are reduced or cut altogether: Brown doesn't seem to understand it is people, not computers that provide services. In the Ministry of Defence a programme of mass privatisation is under way. While the impact of cuts is uneven across the civil service, virtually no one is exempt from their effects.
To fight these attacks it is necessary to understand they are not based on whim, nor merely designed to "shoot the Tory fox" prior to the general election. The assault is ideological and intrinsically linked to the wider neo-liberal agenda that Blair and Brown are promoting.
All the main parties support the cuts. They are political in nature but can be defeated by building the strongest possible alliance of PCS, other unions and associated organisations, including those with a stake in preserving and improving public services.
The real battle is between the vast majority of society who require efficient well-run publicly owned public services and the private sector ideologues who, like Thatcher, believe there is no such thing as society and profit should rule supreme, even in provision of those vital services which set minimum standards for civilised life.
The analysis set out by the Left Unity-led PCS national executive, under the leadership of general secretary, Mark Serwotka and president, Janice Godrich is being confirmed almost daily - rather than improvements, the cuts programme is driving services to decline and destruction.
Civil servants are being radicalised. The cuts programme is accompanied by vicious assaults on terms and conditions and underpinned by an ideological offensive conducted by Blair's press allies that seeks to denigrate public sector workers.
The easy part is over for Brown, the loss of 13, 000 jobs in DWP, for example, has been mainly achieved by turnover, as staff go for jobs elsewhere. An operation that is clearly heading for big problems.
Increasingly workers understand that the chances of receiving redundancy "packages" is not on the agenda. The plan is to drive staff out by making their working life unbearable.
However these cuts are coming at a terrible price in terms of operational difficulties that, along with increasing staffing shortages, is plunging large areas of the civil service into crisis.
Workloads are dramatically increasing, stress is of epidemic proportions, management are instituting punitive application of absence and sickness procedures, morale is at rock bottom.
In areas where the cuts are hitting hardest, ministers and officials are in a state of denial about the chaos, which will grow if they continue on their present course.
In The Socialist 21 July 2005: