Government lawyers fear cost-cutting consolidation plans will lead to big job losses and attacks on their employment conditions.
The merger of legal functions appears set to incorporate cuts deeper than envisaged in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review.
Correspondence seen by the Gazette reveals that plans to merge departmental legal services with the Treasury Solicitor’s Department (TSol) will be ‘completed’ or ‘well advanced’ by October 2013.
A ‘big bang’ approach to shared services has been ruled out, but the Department for Communities and Local Government is set to be fully absorbed by TSol this year. Justice, transport, defence, and energy and climate change will follow.
Departments drew up their own plans to achieve cuts demanded in the 2010 spending review, but these did not include shared services.
In a letter to the Treasury, cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood and head of the home civil service Sir Bob Kerslake admit the timetable is ‘tight’. But they note the process is a ‘requirement’ of the Civil Service Reform Plan.
Jane Cockram, national officer at the FDA union, said members’ concerns centre around job losses, and terms and conditions (since roles will change). The FDA is to meet Kerslake.
The shared services model has delivered recognised savings in local government. But Whitehall’s own track record has been heavily criticised, most notably by the Commons public accounts committee.
A TSol spokesperson said there were ‘no plans to cut legal posts’, but confirmed the mergers gave ‘more opportunities for savings’. She added that staff transferring can choose to retain their current terms.
However, it is unclear if lawyers will continue to sit in the departments they advise and there has been no move to establish likely duplication of roles post-merger.