Civil servants at risk in another county jobs blow

Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, at the new Defra building in Alnwick in 2009.
Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, at the new Defra building in Alnwick in 2009.

Another jobs blow has been dealt to north Northumberland with the announcement that 41 civil service jobs are risk, alongside claims that work will be outsourced to India.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has told the Gazette that positions at Defra’s Lion House, in Alnwick, are affected as the Cabinet Office is setting up a new limited company to carry out ‘back office’ work within the department and the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) nationwide.

The move means that staff at the Willowburn Trading Estate offices, which are owned by Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), could face redundancies.It also throws the future of the state-of-the-art building, which opened in 2009, into doubt.

Graham Bowers, PCS branch chairman, has a meeting with staff at Lion House today.

He said: “It is appalling and understandably morale is very, very low.

“And it doesn’t just affect the 41 members of staff that are at risk, it will affect the 48 staff that are left as well.”

The announcement means that 251 jobs in the area are now at risk after the Gazette reported that up to 200 positions could be axed at HMP Northumberland, in Acklington, and 10 at Hardy and Grey’s, in Alnwick.

Lois Austin, from PCS, said the new company, SSC Ltd, is set to take over on November 1.

It will be a quarter owned by the Government and three-quarters owned by a private company and a firm called Steria has been chosen from four others as the preferred bidder.

“Steria has confirmed that a large element of work will be offshored to India,” she said. “It will be processing work that does not involve face-to-face contact, including telephone calls.”

She added: “Steria has also indicated it intends to reduce the size of the UK estate but will not indicate which offices are to close.”

But Mr Bowers added that the company ‘must’ know which sites will be lost and added: “There is a lot of secrecy and that makes people suspicious.”

Alnwick town and county councillor, Gordon Castle, said: “The public sector is slimming down and that is to be expected. But I hope that the take-up of jobs in the private sector compensates. It is a matter of great concern.”

Coun Heather Cairns added: “Any job losses in the Alnwick area are a cause of concern. Work being outsourced to India is not popular as we find it difficult to communicate. It is unacceptable.”

MP Sir Alan Beith said there is a realdanger of jobs being lost due to outsourcing and he has raised the issue with Cabinet Office ministers and Defra.

He added: “Jobs were originally brought to Alnwick to strengthen employment in a rural area and the need for these jobs is still there, and if any jobs are being lost the department should outsource more work from London to Alnwick.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The Civil Service is moving to be faster, smaller and more unified and sharing services is a central part of this. The Next Generation Shared Services Strategy sets out a new model to share HR, procurement, finance and payroll functions with five centres instead of the current eight in order to deliver more efficient and cost-effective services.

“The process of selecting a private sector joint venture partner for the second of the two independent centres has commenced and an announcement will be made in due course.”