Ministers are using redundancy terms to hire trainees ‘on the cheap’, says PCS union

The government plans to make more civil servants redundant to make space for up to 30,000 apprentices by 2020, according to the PCS union.

The claims follow a seemingly convenient convergence of two government policies, one to increase apprenticeship numbers and one to reduce existing headcount, both in the civil service.

Increasing the number of apprenticeships placements in the civil service is intended to “end inequality in the public sector” the Cabinet Office said.

And Matthew Hancock, minister for the Cabinet Office, has previously said that more than 200,000 apprenticeships would be created in the public sector by 2020 with more than 30,000 of these places set to be in the civil service to encourage recruits from a wider range of backgrounds.

However, unions representing civil service staff are concerned that this influx of trainees coincides too closely with plans to downsize current staffing as budget cuts bite.

For example, in its latest report on the reform of the Civil Service Compensation Scheme, the Cabinet Office said the current redundancy scheme was “too expensive in light of the national debt and budget deficit leaving less money available to support those where necessary”.

It added: “This is especially acute because of the requirement to reduce current staff numbers due to both the spending review and the need to create space to allow for the recruitment of apprentices.”

The PCS union said this shows the government is attempting to bring in thousands of new civil service trainees “on the cheap”.

A PCS spokesman said that more than 80,000 civil service jobs had been cut in the past five years, with up to 100,000 more earmarked for the axe in the next four years. While news that more than 100 HMRC offices, 86 courts and 70 offices of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are set to close, means thousands more civil service jobs are under threat, the spokesman added.

“PCS wants the civil service to grow and develop, and to provide opportunities for young people from diverse backgrounds to help tackle persistent under-representation in the senior ranks,” a PCS statement said. “But the government's perverse policies of cutting jobs and redundancy pay, while bringing in apprentices on the cheap, is not the way to do it.”

However, a Cabinet Office spokesman said: "It is absolutely untrue to suggest that any individual civil servant will be made redundant to make way for an apprentice. The government remains absolutely committed to the apprenticeships programme." He added that it would not be a case of “one in, one out”.

The Cabinet Office report also outlined government plans to enact legislation ending the organisation’s reputation for excessive redundancy payments. A proposed cap across the civil service would be set at £95,000.

The report stated: “The Civil Service of the future will require different skills from that of the past, and there is a growing divergence between the skills required for the future and the skills that have been prioritised in the past.

“Employers will therefore need to refresh the skills they need in their organisation, which may involve exiting some staff. Although this could be done through extensive use of compulsory redundancy the government would prefer not to do this.”

Dave Penman, general secretary of the senior civil servants’ union FDA, said: "We need an unequivocal statement from the minister confirming that not a single job will be lost to make space for apprentices."

And the government should not "use the drive to increase the number of apprentices in the UK as an excuse for making existing staff redundant”, he added.