Workers in the two biggest civil service departments received hammer blows last week when the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Revenue and Customs both announced major job losses and office closures.
The DWP’s Business Plan for 2008-11 includes 12,000 job cuts and 200 office closures. This comes on top of the 30,000 jobs already axed along with offices in the last three years.
Revenue and Customs has announced its plans to close 35 offices in Wales, Scotland and the north west of England affecting 5,000 workers.
These cuts will wreak havoc both on workers’ lives and the services we provide.
The DWP claims that the Business Plan is a direct result of the government’s 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review, which called for a 5 percent cost reduction year-on-year within all civil service departments.
If management wants to cut costs, it could cut the enormous amounts they spend on consultants and it could scrap private contracts. Instead, it prefers to cut essential frontline jobs and services.
Already, every unit in the DWP is failing to deliver on its core aims and services have been deteriorating.
For example, the Citizens Advice Bureau in Stirling has taken to handing out food vouchers to people who can’t get through on the phone to apply for a Social Fund crisis loan.
The reason many people need these crisis loans is because of delays in the processing of benefits due to the centralisation of work.
These cuts will make life harder for pensioners, job seekers, disabled people and single parents. They come at the same time as we are being expected to suspend the benefits of some drug users.
The DWP is being set up to fail, and so inviting the government to call in the private and third sectors. This fits with their determination to privatise large parts of the organisation.
DWP secretary James Purnell last week announced plans for a four-fold increase in the number of private and voluntary organisations in pushing the long term unemployed back into work.
In an attempt to make the cuts seem more acceptable, management is looking at new ways to reward staff who stay. As part of this strategy, they intend to remind staff that they will be getting their pay increase on time this year.
This is the year in which 40 percent of staff will not get a get a pay rise.
In Revenue and Customs large swathes of offices will be closed and workers will be asked to move to the nearest office to them.
Many of the people at these offices are people on low wages, part time workers and single mothers, who will not be able to move easily.
There will be 850 job losses in Wales alone. Jobs will be going from very poor areas across Britain where people who are claiming tax benefits will need to speak to workers about their issues.
The anger over the cuts led to an unofficial walk out in Llanelli on Friday of last week.
At the same time as pushing through cuts, Revenue and Customs is putting in place two new senior civil service grades, costing £400,000 a year.
The attacks are part of the wider assault by Gordon Brown on the public sector.
The PCS civil service workers’ union is building a lobby of MPs on Tuesday 11 March, and members in the DWP will be striking on 17 and 18 March.
The PCS group executive in Revenue and Customs is set to meet on Monday of next week to discuss what steps to take. It should reject management’s proposals and launch a ballot for strike action.
Both sections of the union could link up in action with other groups such as the teachers’ NUT union and the lecturers’ UCU union if they strike over pay in April.
This is a national attack on the union that requires a national response.
It has never been more vital for civil service workers, other public sector workers and service users to join together to resist these attacks.
Steve West is a member of the PCS DWP group executive. Marianne Owens is a member of the PCS Revenue and Customs group executive. They both write in a personal capacity.