budget day blues


Gordon Brown announced civil service job and funding cuts in his budget statement on 17 March. In return he wants to use the savings for front line services. Unions representing the workers affected were not impressed.

By 2007/08 Brown expects to save £20 billion, and to cut over 40,000 jobs. These are mainly in the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) and a new department created from the merger of Customs & Excise and Inland Revenue.

Further cuts will emerge later this year, once the government completes its spending review for the next three years. The targeted savings are in addition to 2.5% annual "efficiency" savings already in place. These have recently been used to justify part of the annual increase in civil service pay.

The government's idea of consultation was to tell the unions on the morning of the announcement. The tone from ministers was deliberately insulting, as if delivering government services was nothing to do with the workers involved. But those workers and their unions should not have been surprised.

Blair and Brown are as keen as the Tories to attack civil service "inefficiency" and "bureaucracy". The budget announcement was based on reports already widely publicised, even if the unions did not know the details. DWP had already announced some of their job cuts and the Treasury has been making aggressive noises about future pay and costs for months.

Brown also wants to move 20,000 jobs from London and southeast England. These are supposedly hard-to-fill and expensive "back-office" posts destined for low-cost and needy areas. Brown said nothing about plans to devolve central government to the regions and to blur the lines between central and local government. But that is what is happening at the behest of the European Union. The budget is one more step along that road.

Compulsory redundancy is not ruled out; this government would push through its plans if re-elected. The unions have a hard job up to the general election, with their own members and other workers. They have to acknowledge that all isn't well with the civil service, but efficiency reviews like this aren't the answer.