One in seven jobs at risk as squeeze begins

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ONE in seven core civil-service jobs in the Scottish Government is to be cut under plans to deal with the spending squeeze being imposed on Scotland by the UK Treasury.

Scotland's mandarins are planning to reduce the 4,200-strong central civil-service to just 3,600 - the lowest staffing level since devolution was established, The Scotsman can reveal.

The emergence of the plans last night angered civil-service unions and provoked a political row as the Nationalist Scottish Government blamed Westminster for forcing Scotland's hand. The proposed job cuts were revealed in secret, internal civil-service papers obtained by The Scotsman.

They show that to achieve the staff cuts, there is a plan to order an immediate recruitment freeze for the core civil-service in Scotland.

And they expose a rift between ministers and Sir John Elvidge, the head of the civil service, over the SNP's insistence on there being no compulsory redundancies. In a minute to colleagues, Sir John warns ministers this policy is a "blunt instrument" and that it could mean that the "wrong staff leave".

The document, marked "restricted", was written less than a month ago by Thea Teale, head of human resources at the Scottish Government. In it, she sets out plans for job losses aimed at saving 36.5 million over three years to the People, Business and Innovation Group (PBIG), which oversees staffing matters.

The plan points to staffing levels of 3,600 in April 2011, a reduction of around 170 a year. If carried through, the numbers of policymakers, ministerial private office staff, communications officials and support workers will be lower than the first year of devolution, when there were 3,800 central staff.

The document - drawn up before the final outcome of the Treasury's Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) for Scotland is known - also suggests that the job losses will not be restricted to the central civil service but might also affect government agencies and quangos.

Ms Teale says the group should note that "additional pressure to increase reductions or to absorb staff from other areas...would significantly impact on the viability or natural wastage as a mechanism for delivering the required savings".

The document cites as an example "the anticipated changes" to the Communities Scotland quango, which the SNP has promised to take back into the Scottish Government.

The eight-page document, which has not been formally put to ministers, reveals a conflict of approach between Sir John and Alex Salmond, the First Minister. Mr Salmond and John Swinney, the minister for finance, have ruled out compulsory job losses across the public sector in Scotland. In an extract from a minute from the permanent secretary cited in the document, Sir John warns that the freeze on recruitment will be enforced, apart from "exceptional cases".

But he adds: "Shrinkage by natural wastage is a blunt instrument: the 'wrong' staff leave, and we may lose skills we still need."

He promises senior civil service will "do all it can to move staff to priority work, but it will be necessary to reduce our efforts in other areas".

Last night, Lynn Henderson, the political officer of the PCS union, which represents around 3,000 of the staff affected,

said it was surprised that "the Scottish Government is suggesting job reductions at a time when the First Minister and the Cabinet secretary for finance and sustainable growth have given assurances in parliament that there will be no job cuts and no redundancies".

She added: "PCS is balloting on our national campaign against job cuts by the UK government, which will include members of the Scottish Government group." It is understood unions are mounting a rearguard action to stop the plans being adopted.

Nationalists last night argued that the issue helped to make their case for Scotland to have greater fiscal powers. A source close to the First Minister said: "If we had financial independence, including revenue from North Sea oil, it would be a different story. We have said we will embark on efficiency measures and we are committed to no compulsory redundancies, but we are dependent on the CSR determining our future budget."

The source added: "These are preparatory proposals for options which haven't been before ministers, but they set out contingencies in relation to the internal administration of the Scottish Government in light of expected extremely tight expenditure round.

"Ministers have not been involved in consideration of the proposals, nor will they be until we have exact details of the Comprehensive Spending Review. There has, however, been an initial discussion of the options in outline with staff representatives."

Iain Gray, Labour's shadow minister for finance, said: "The SNP has repeatedly been asked if jobs will go because their rash promises mean they cannot balance their budget. It looks as if that is the case. As usual, their first response is to blame Westminster for their own problems."

Along with the document which sets out the proposed job losses, The Scotsman has also obtained a draft article for the Scottish Government's intranet by Robert Gordon, the director-general of justice and chair of the PBIG. In what was said to be an "early draft", Mr Gordon tells staff: "We are heading into what we expect to be an extremely tight spending round.

"That means we need to cut our cloth accordingly and ensure that we spend the resources we receive as efficiently and effectively as possible."

Mr Gordon says that although the PBIG does not know the final CSR figure, the recruitment freeze has been introduced to plan ahead. He adds:

"I recognise staff will be concerned - but I can say at the outset that there are no plans for redundancy or early retirement packages: the savings will all be delivered by natural wastage."


Who will be immediately affected by these job losses?

What is known as the 'core staff' of the Scottish Government, including the policy-makers, statisticians, communications staff and support staff.

Will it affect other areas of the public service?

It is possible that there will be reductions in staff in some quangos and agencies but not, ministers say, in frontline services like education and the NHS.

Will there be any redundancies or early retirements?

No. The SNP has promised that there will be no compulsory redundancies in any area of the public sector. The plans as they stand rely on "natural wastage", the turnover of staff.

How will this affect the work of the Scottish Government?

Sir John Elvidge, the permanent secretary, has warned that using natural wastage is a "blunt instrument", in that the "wrong staff", those with particular skills could leave

How much will this save?

It is proposed to save 36.5 million over three years.

What will be the first sign?

If the plans are given the go-ahead, there will be an immediate introduction of an external recruitment freeze.

Will there be any recruiting?

Only in exceptional circumstances in which it is deemed impossible to recruit someone internally to take a job left vacant.

In which areas of the civil service will jobs go?

It is not known and because they are using the natural wastage process, hard to predict.

Will the job losses effect all grades of the civil service?

In theory, yes. But the leaked paper notes that if fewer highly-paid senior civil servants leave, then to save the same amount of money more from the lower grades will have to be cut.

What will happen to people on fixed terms contracts?

Their contracts will be honoured.

Does this mean that the Scottish Executive, as it was, was over-staffed?

The civil service would argue not, claiming staff are recruited and retained according to needs.