Civil service numbers could increase unless fundamental changes are made

September 04, 2012 10:00 AM

There is a real danger that civil service numbers could creep up again following initial cut backs if departments fail to "fundamentally redesign" their working practices, the Public Accounts Committee has warned.  The commons’ spending watchdog has published a report based on findings from the Cabinet Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and the head of the Home Civil Service.

According to the report, the civil service reduced in size by around 35,000 in 2011 of which nearly 18,000 were through early departures. The report showed that much of the “low hanging fruit” has now been picked through voluntary ‘early departures’ with figures showing this should reap savings of around £400 million per year in around 15 months’ time. But the report warned that the savings achieved could be undone by having to rehire staff further down the line.

With fundamental changes to the way departments are run and, the scope for further savings is significant. But as we revealed earlier this month some departments are bucking the trend and are actually hiring more staff. So while the Ministry of Defence has successfully slimmed down its back office staff by 5 per cent, the Department for Energy and Climate Change increased their overall headcount by 4 per cent from December 2011 to March 2012.

It’s important that some departments' good work is not undone by a small minority of irresponsible ones. There is a real risk that when restrictions on recruitment are lifted that more departments will start to reverse some of their good work. But the reality is that the challenge has only just begun. If the government wants to achieve lasting savings in Whitehall’s budgets then it must ensure that the current programme is managed carefully and that measures are in place to ensure all changes are sustainable and guarantee permanent savings for taxpayers.There is a real danger that civil service numbers could creep up again following initial cut backs if departments fail to "fundamentally redesign" their working practices, the Public Accounts Committee has warned.  The commons’ spending watchdog has published a report based on findings from the Cabinet Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and the head of the Home Civil Service.

According to the report, the civil service reduced in size by around 35,000 in 2011 of which nearly 18,000 were through early departures. The report showed that much of the “low hanging fruit” has now been picked through voluntary ‘early departures’ with figures showing this should reap savings of around £400 million per year in around 15 months’ time. But the report warned that the savings achieved could be undone by having to rehire staff further down the line.

With fundamental changes to the way departments are run and, the scope for further savings is significant. But as we revealed earlier this month some departments are bucking the trend and are actually hiring more staff. So while the Ministry of Defence has successfully slimmed down its back office staff by 5 per cent, the Department for Energy and Climate Change increased their overall headcount by 4 per cent from December 2011 to March 2012.

It’s important that some departments' good work is not undone by a small minority of irresponsible ones. There is a real risk that when restrictions on recruitment are lifted that more departments will start to reverse some of their good work. But the reality is that the challenge has only just begun. If the government wants to achieve lasting savings in Whitehall’s budgets then it must ensure that the current programme is managed carefully and that measures are in place to ensure all changes are sustainable and guarantee permanent savings for taxpayers.

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