Staff cuts threat to children’s services

Since 1997, about 800 new posts have been created in the
Department for Education and Skills to cover new services such as
Sure Start, Connexions and the Children’s and Young
People’s Unit. These are the civil servants who, over the
past seven years, have provided the strategic and administrative
support necessary to deliver New Labour’s flagship
initiatives on reducing child poverty, raising achievement and
improving life chances among young people. They are currently
engaged in rolling out the last phases of the local Sure Start
programme and are aiming to set up 2,500 children’s centres
by 2008, as announced by Chancellor Gordon Brown in this
year’s Spending Review.

But many civil servants are now nervously considering their
future. Last month’s Spending Review confirmed plans
announced in March to trim the DfES workforce by around one-third
over the next four years. Around 850 posts will disappear before
April 2006 with a further 610 going before 2008.

As yet it is unclear which posts will be targeted, whether any
department functions will be lost and, importantly, whether there
will be any knock-on effect on front-line services.

The DfES’s permanent secretary David Normington has
stressed that the cull will be achieved by the department indulging
in less “micromanagement”, and adopting a more strategic role in
directing services. While this has been welcomed by head teachers
as a sign that the government will refrain from meddling in the
day-to-day running of schools, it is less clear what it means for
services such as Sure Start and Connexions.

DfES is adamant that the restructuring will have no detrimental
effect on front-line services. “This is part of making the DfES
more strategic and professional, enabling us to further improve
services for children, families, schools, lifelong learning and
higher education,” said a spokesperson. “It is also in response to
continued pressure for increased efficiency, in particular to drive
costs down in departments, non-departmental public bodies and
agencies, and to deliver more money to front-line services.”

The unions, however, are not convinced. “At the moment it looks
like one post in every Sure Start region is going to be lost,” said
a spokesperson for the Public and Commercial Services union. “The
fear is that that function will then be passed on to front-line
staff, which will obviously impact on their ability to deliver the

According to Tony Conway, DfES group president for the Public
and Commercial Services union, the job cuts could seriously
undermine efforts to expand the Sure Start service across the
country and to deliver the 2,500 children’s centres before
the 2008 deadline.

“It was always envisaged that there would be a reduction in
staff as the work [on Sure Start] was passed on from the department
to the local authorities. But because the job cuts are being made
earlier, as part of the national reduction in the civil service,
the reduction in staff is happening before the work goes. The
workload is therefore increasing and morale is very poor at the
moment. There is a real danger that these job cuts could jeopardise
the roll-out of Sure Start.”

A further threat to front-line services could be the prospect of
industrial action by civil service staff.

“There is the possibility of national action over the job cuts
in the civil service,” said Conway. “Then within the DfES there is
also the issue of workload. If our members are going to be asked to
take on additional duties there comes a point where we have to say
enough is enough. We’ve not ruled out industrial action on

The reasoning given by Gordon Brown behind his radical
restructuring of the civil service was that it will deliver more
than £20bn in savings by 2008, money that, he says, will be
ploughed directly back into front-line services.

It is this extra money that has allowed him to commit to
piloting free nursery education for two-year-olds, promise at least
120,000 more child care places by 2008, free books for two million
children and an extra £100 million to invest in
children’s centres. Indeed this year’s spending review
was generally regarded as one of the best ever for children. It
would therefore be ironic if this radical programme of reform was
put in jeopardy by the need to sack the staff administering it, in
order to pay for it all.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.