29 April 2022

Arm’s-length bodies play vital role, PCS stresses to government

Amid pronouncements from some in government that some agencies should be privatised or shut down, PCS has stressed to the Cabinet Office the vital role that staff in arm's-length bodies have played in keeping the country running during the pandemic.

Having heaped praise on public sector workers, including those who work for arm’s-length bodies, for delivering essential services over the past 2 years, the government is now denigrating them.

Government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg this week published guidance laying the ground for a new wave of reform that could see the outsourcing of more services currently delivered by arm’s-length bodies. The new guidance was published on the day prime minister Boris Johnson reportedly threatened to “privatise the arse off” HM Passport Office and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency because of staffing issues and service backlogs. Both agencies have suffered because of a lack of resources, overuse of agency staff and outsourcing. The solution is less not more privatisation.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This latest disgraceful attack on hard-working public servants by Jacob Rees-Mogg is part of an ideological assault on the public sector by the Tories.

“A key part of that ideological assault is to force the privatisation of public services. As that programme has been a demonstrable disaster over the past 50 years, we can only conclude that Rees-Mogg and the Tories are pursuing that agenda because it benefits the profit margins of the speculators that they represent. They have no interest in delivering first-class public services to improve the functioning of society.”

We raised this issue, alongside several other pronouncements from Rees-Mogg on jobs, hybrid working and efficiency savings, at our latest meeting with the Cabinet Office this week.

We are now in a transitional period from the arrangements that we agreed to deal with Covid and the return of some form of normality. Most of the established civil service collective bargaining machinery, such as it was, has fallen away over the last 2 years as Covid has been the priority. We have now agreed therefore to write to the Cabinet Office detailing our view on the ongoing and outstanding issues that need to be dealt with in respect of Covid and the issues that we believe now need to be dealt with immediately on national collective bargaining.

We will be demanding talks on jobs and hybrid working in the structure of the civil service moving forward. We are also pushing for the establishment of a proper collective bargaining machinery to deal with the whole range of issues confronting us.

We have agreed to meet again in a fortnight's time to receive their initial response to our letter.

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