Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) (RG 29)

  1.  The Public and Commercial Services Union is the largest trade union within the Civil Service representing over 330,000 members.

  2.  PCS welcomes the select committee's timely inquiry into the future for regional governance and is happy to supplement this written submission with further information and oral evidence. PCS is the main union representing staff in the regions with members in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), and Government Offices in the regions.

  3.  Many of our members are engaged in work that impacts directly on local communities and has important links with local businesses, community organisations, local authorities and regional planning work. We believe that central government is intrinsically linked to the future development of and support of regional government.

  4.  PCS believe a properly resourced and staffed civil service is essential in delivering the services needed to support sustainable communities in regions. We are concerned that the current massive reductions in civil service headcount could seriously compromise the key services that our members provide on a daily basis to local communities.

  5.  We are particularly concerned that the Government's arbitrary approach to reducing staff numbers in the civil service is undermining investment in regeneration and the objective of ensuring sustainable communities across the country.

  6.  PCS supports the emphasis the Government has put on the importance of investment in ensuring sustainable communities through initiatives such as "The Northern Way". However, we share the concerns that have been articulated by the TUC regarding:

    —    The need for unions to be engaged as key stakeholders in such initiatives and in the work of Regional Assemblies on a more involved and consistent basis.

    —    The importance for ensuring that sustainability is linked with well skilled and not low paid, low skilled jobs characterised by many of the recent contact centre developments.

    —    The need for recognition of the role City Regions play in driving forward economic growth and regeneration.

    —    The importance of ensuring that isolated and rural communities are not excluded from investment planning or denied key local services.

  7.  PCS believe that investment in good quality high skilled civil service jobs with access to flexible working arrangements is an important part in providing key high quality local and central government services that generate investment in the communities within which those public sector employees live and work.

  8.  PCS members are delivering key Government and local community priorities. In the DWP, programmes providing access to employment and "Pathways to Work" have been very successful initiatives helping people back to work. However, there are serious concerns over service delivery in this Department which is suffering due to large scale job cuts and office closures. Service users now have to contact call centres when in the past they were able to visit local offices and get advice from the staff there.

  9.  There are serious concerns over the reduction in accessibility of services that some of the most vulnerable people in communities rely upon. DWP have been making these changes in local services with no assessment having been made on how local client groups will be affected. For example, there has been no assessment made of the impact office closures and restricted services will have on the more isolated rural communities where there is difficulty in traveling long distances with very little public transport links to alternative service providing facilities.

  10.  Learning and Skills Councils have provided a key source of learning and skills opportunities for many workers across a range of industries over recent years and are a key driver behind delivering the Government's skills agenda. The current "Agenda for Change" programme in the LSC aims to see a reduction of 1,300 posts by June 2006 creating an organisation of 3,400. A previous period of restructuring only formally came to an end in February 2005 with the loss of 800 posts. PCS is extremely concerned over the impact these staff reductions will have on the LSC's future ability to deliver the Government's skills agenda.

  11.  PCS members who work in the Regional Development Agencies (RDA's) and Government Offices in the regions play a key role in co-coordinating and delivering regional investment and strategies. Civil Servants in Equality Commissions, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), DWP and Government Offices are key drivers in anticipating the demographic changes that will impact upon the gender and ethnicity of the UK workforce over the next decade. They are critical to ensuring businesses and local communities recognise and embrace these changes in order to deliver sustainable growth, community cohesion and tackle social exclusion.

  12.  PCS believes that there is the need for a serious debate about whether the future of regional governance is seen merely as a delivery mechanism for central government or whether it is about making policy. PCS believes that all of the considerations around the future of regional government must be underpinned by transparent systems of democratic governance accessible to local communities. We are concerned that the emphasis on outsourcing of central and local government activities to private contractors undermines the ability to ensure effective public accountability of key local services and we are not convinced that an inevitably lengthy round of local and regional reform would produce realisable and beneficial change for local and regional communities.

  13.  We believe that delivering sustainable communities in the immediate future is linked directly to the quality and effectiveness of stakeholder involvement and that PCS and other trade unions have a key role to play in that as important partners whose role must be re-enforced and strongly built into the fabric of current structures for managing future development.

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