The Ministry of Justice is still waiting for chancellor George Osborne to approve the government's £375m investment in courts infrastructure in the forthcoming spending review, it has emerged.
MoJ permanent secretary Richard Heaton (pictured) told MPs that the bid for the five-year investment, earmarked to modernise the courts system, is still ‘in play’ ahead of the chancellor’s announcement on 28 November.
The funding was promised in the Conservative manifesto but the department needs to find ways to save £1bn in real terms from its annual budget.
‘This is one of the many finance areas we are seeking money from the Treasury but the spending review is tight,’ said Heaton during his appearance at the House of Commons justice committee yesterday.
Pressed by committee chair Bob Neill on whether this could mean the programme might collapse, Heaton said: ‘It is one of our top bids, both in terms of capital and resource funding.’
Heaton said there are ‘bound’ to be reductions in staff numbers at the MoJ in the coming years as the department seeks to reduce spending.
But members questioned why certain areas of spending have increased from 2014 to 2015, with consultancy spending up from £27m to £34m and temporary staff spending up from £134m to £165m. Numbers of permanent staff members have fallen from 82,000 to 79,000 in the space of a year.
MoJ director general Ann Beasley said that the headcount in the court service is down from 22,000 in 2010 to around 17,000 in 2015.
She said the department had ‘deliberately’ recruited agency staff in the knowledge that headcount would be reduced, saying it would be ‘dishonest’ to give permanent jobs to people knowing those jobs would not exist in future years.
Heaton said he had tried to discourage staff from allowing overspend in certain areas and relying on moving funds from a different part of the MoJ, adding that it creates a ‘culture of slackness’.
Heaton confirmed eight people are paid more than the £180,000 annual salary of the highest-paid director.
These roles include an interim head of IT and digital, information assurance adviser at GCHQ, enterprise architect, programme manager and four programme directors.
Heaton said specialists were needed in building the digital service, contract management and technology at the MoJ. ‘They are all taking a considerable drop in the salary they were earning outside as they want to do public sector work.’