So it looks like the National Audit Office (NAO) says Whitehall has not properly planned the cuts to civil service staffing numbers. Is this a surprise to you? And in what way was it not planned properly?
Well, the NAO says 90,000 jobs were cut between 2010 and 2014, saving more than £2bn annually. But the NAO also said those savings had delivered a “generational gap” which could cause a serious future skills shortage.
Over the four year period, the percentage of civil servants in their 20s reduced from 14% to 9%. But at the same time, those aged 50-59 increased from 26% to 31%.
You can spot where that will lead in five years time. You can see the future reports now and the implications of an older workforce.
Well the NAO spotted those “weaknesses in the approaches to developing strategic workforce plans”. It’s good they saw that one. They also thought the way austerity had been implemented could “hinder staff cost reductions”. OK, credit there too.
But the NAO’s warning that appropriate strategies were not in place to support the future reductions in staffing levels, implied by government plans, is a stark warning. You know we have austerity to come to enable the delivery of sustainable services far beyond the current cycle of cuts. The real red light danger is the current approach damaging the delivery of public services. The decrease in younger recruits means missing vital skills which we need to develop in future.
Unless there is another agenda? Ceasing some services? Reduction until only bare bones remain? A “generational gap”, a term used by NAO, is something we all need to watch out for.
The NAO itself flags up that low levels of recruitment and that generational gap potentially “heightens the risk the civil service will not have the talent and skills needed for future challenges”.
The overall NAO report – a report you should consider reading – concluded that Whitehall had not done enough to prepare for the consequences of having an even smaller civil service. Particularly with further staffing cuts planned between now and 2020. The ask in Government departments to find a total of £132bn further spending cuts to help eliminate the deficit by 2017-18 is a big ask.
Luckily, the Cabinet Office had “noted the report and would review its recommendations”. So phew! That’s alright then. Watch this space for the rush to action.