At least 1,600 jobs are under threat in the Ministry of Justice as much of the work currently done by court and tribunal staff is transferred from courts to new super hub courts and tribunal service centres.
The first service centres (CTSC) are due to open in Stoke and Birmingham in January and are expected to employ more than 300 people each, in roles ranging from processing cases, and issuing court orders and hearing notices, to answering telephone and web enquiries. Initially the centres will cover civil service money claims, divorce, social security and child support and probate services.
The department says it intends to create more service centres in the future as part of a £1 billion reform programme to digitise the justice system.
Ahead of the move the MoJ, through its “modernising employment proposition” (MEP) wants to make staff contracts more flexible by increasing the working week to 38 hours and extend 8pm, while staff could regularly be asked to work Saturdays and bank holidays for no extra money.
Staff will effectively have to apply for the jobs in the new service centres. A letter sent this week to affected staff in CMC, divorce, social security and child support and probate services says that the role “you currently perform will no longer exist in its current form, as either some or all of the work you do at the moment will be transferred and/or done differently”.
The MoJ says that is has made clear to the justice unions, including PCS, that it does not intend to dismiss anyone as redundant but recognises that “where there is a change of this nature, we should proceed as if the risk of redundancy exists”.
The letter also tells staff that no one will automatically move into one of the new service centre roles because none of the existing roles match the new requirements.
Staff have been informed that there will be a recruitment exercise during the autumn for roles in Stoke and Birmingham.
High on ambition, low on evidence
HMCTS was recently criticised by the parliamentary public accounts committee (PAC) for being high on ambition and low on evidence on some of the efficiencies claimed for its reform programme. MPs expressed concerns about poor stakeholder engagement as well as offsetting any perceived savings made through reform onto other parts of the public sector. These echo many of the concerns PCS has expressed from the outset of the reform project and we suggested that considering this HMCTS should proceed more cautiously. Despite this and with the ink barely dry from the PAC’s findings HMCTS has decided to press on.
Lack of proper consultation
Although HMCTS senior managers have consulted on some of the projects that enable the creation of the first two centres, on other elements they have not and PCS did not have a clear picture of what was intended until very recently when HMCTS shared staff numbers, locations and the type of work going to the two new centres in Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham.
Since then we have been engaged in intensive discussions to try to ensure that HMCTS follows the managing organisational change framework, which outlines the process that must be followed when HMCTS wants to change structures, so that jobs are protected and that members and PCS are properly and effectively consulted.
PCS acknowledges that HMCTS does not intend to dismiss any staff as redundant because of this change but we remain gravely concerned that it is a reasonably foreseeable consequence of its actions. We are also concerned that HMCTS has not properly consulted on the types of measures it needs to have in place to reduce the risk of redundancies before the decision to proceed with the CTSCs was made.
Simple verbal assurances about the availability of jobs in other parts of the organisation are insufficient given that the HMCTS Reform Programme will result in a massive reduction to the number of available posts and see staffing levels reduced by many thousands by the end of the process. We have made several written requests to permanent secretary Richard Heaton, the MoJ, HMPPS and the CEO of HMCTS Kevin Sadler for an agreed memorandum of understanding between the various agencies in the MoJ. Despite our requests we have yet to receive any such agreement.
Negotiations are ongoing and we will keep members updated on those discussions. Our group executive committee will meet for an emergency meeting on 3 September.
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