Right-wing commentators love to present regulations and rights as a tangle of red tape operated by faceless bureaucrats. The right fail to realise that their Brexit will not be a great unravelling, but a transfer from Brussels to Whitehall and Holyrood.
So what of the so called “faceless bureaucrats” of own – the Home Civil Service. Is the UK civil service equipped for Brexit? Of course not. Government departments are in disarray. While the Tory Brexit negotiations take place in secret, what is no secret among the workforce is that there is a coming jobs crisis. There are 20% less civil servants than since the Tories came to power. With 100,000 jobs cut, the civil service is at its leanest since WW2. After a decade of savage job cuts and office closures there simply aren’t enough civil servants to cover the work, never mind what is yet to be returned from Brussels.
According to an Institute of Government report last month, half the money spent on Brexit so far has gone on staffing. New departments, DExEU grew from 50 to 700 staff and DIT added 800 new Brexit roles. These are not new jobs in the main, just reshuffling already thinly spread civil servants.
May’s chaotic Government keeps coming up with bampot ideas to salve their self-inflicted staffing crisis. Last year to much ridicule, the Home Office suggested a volunteer Dad’s Army to protect our Borders. The Home Office needs to hire 1,500 new staff by September 2018. The government’s doggedness in continuing with office closure programmes in DWP and HMRC looks increasingly shambolic. Shutting up shop when HMRC is looking to take on up to 5,000 staff by next March because of Brexit suggests the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
In spite of the best efforts of the Tories to silence members of the Public and Commercial Services Union, we have proven that civil servants are not faceless bureaucrats. Last summer, in the name of Fair Work, hundreds of tax and social security workers came together in workplaces all over Scotland to explore a workers’ alternative to flagship government services. For most, no one had ever asked them their views about their work before. PCS Scotland produced two reports detailing their fascinating alternative for a better service.
Through the real participation of civil service workers, our union refuses to be a third-party. Our national consultative ballot on pay turned up a 98% opposition to the hated 1% pay cap. It was the strength of our members’ demands that forced the Scottish Government pay policy to raise to inflation levels. While management in the rest of the public sector are making offers to unions, the UK civil service employer is refusing to break the cap. Worker to worker conversations are taking place in every workplace to ensure that we are ballot-ready should the government refuse to talk.
In stark contrast to escalating austerity and cuts offered by Theresa May, PCS has a positive alternative vision, and one we share with the current Labour Opposition leadership. Like us of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell seek investment in public services, an end to privatisation and decent jobs, pay, equality and rights at work. Building on Fair Work progress with the Scottish Government, the opportunities that open with the potential of a real alternative UK Government on the side of workers might fundamentally realise our vision. And that is exciting.
This is also published in the Morning Star https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/pcs-has-positive-anti-austerity-alternative-vision