Fight for a Northern Powerhouse, not a Northern Poorhouse

Bis leafletJoin the march on April 9th, Sheffield. Assemble at noon, Devonshire Green, Sheffield S3 7SG and march to city hall for rally and speakers. Marion Lloyd, PCS BIS Group President, writing in a personal capacity explains this new Tory attack and what the response must be.

It is clear that this Tory government is determined to drive the knife of austerity deep into the hearts of working class communities  Latest in their box of tricks is the complete decimation of the Civil Service through their so called “estates strategy” which, if allowed to go ahead, will see more than 600 government buildings close throughout the UK.  Driven by the Cabinet office, this is on top of estates plans within each government Department. This will not only see thousands of civil Service workers made redundant, but the impact on the delivery of key services and on local communities will be of a magnitude never before experienced.

What this means concretely in the department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) the alleged department for growth, is “efficiency” savings of 40%, reducing the number of partner bodies from 46 to 23 and a reduction in premises from 86 to 6.  The impact of this will be devastating.

Across BIS we already have had the announcements of the withdrawal of funding from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, based in Rotherham, the announcement of the privatisation of the green Investment Bank, the announcement of the privatisation of Land Registry and the closing down of the National Weights and Measurements Regulations Office.  We know this is just the tip of the iceberg.

But probably as shocking was the announcement from the department out of the blue that 300 policy jobs are set to move from across the UK and be centralised into London if the Senior Management in BIS have their way. In a shock announcement which took place in Sheffield, on the 28th January, management told staff that the Sheffield office would be closed and all policy jobs would be moving to London. PCS is determined to oppose this loss of about 250 jobs in Sheffield and a further 50 across the UK.  This flatly contradicts the flowery words of the government about having more jobs outside London and having people of diverse backgrounds involved in developing policy. It also threatens decades of experience and knowledge.

This announcement alone gives the lie to the Tories’ Northern Powerhouse rhetoric.  Moving 300 good quality jobs to London will have a devastating impact on the local economy and the local communities.  In Sheffield 250 job losses will mean local businesses, schools and hospitals closing as a direct result of the loss to the economy.  An already poor city will become poorer and these plans must be stopped.

Left-led PCS BIS Group immediately went into action.  Not telling the Trade unions about the announcement in advance, taken together with the fact that their lead rep was about to go on leave worked against the management as it built on the anger of workers.  Within 24 hours, we had questions asked in parliament and had enlisted the support of local MP’s, local Councillors, local unions and the local press.  Coverage in the national press followed. We have worked tirelessly to build a campaign around a clear set of demands including no compulsory redundancies and no office closures without union agreement, talking to the employer on the one hand but building the membership (more than 50 people joined PCS in 24 hours), and building a campaign of opposition.  This has included linking up with PCS branches across the city and across the union, contacting other unions in the city together with the local council and MP’s building a political campaign.  This has been extremely effective resulting in nearly 300 parliamentary Questions, a Parliamentary debate, a select Committee hearing and close questioning from the Public Accounts Committee exposing the fact that there is no case for closure and no savings.  Ordinary members have played a pivotal role in working with elected reps to organise the workers on the ground into lobbying MP’s, writing to MP’s developing an alternative model to put to management and building support at a local level. This has freed up the reps to do the broader work to campaign and organise throughout BIS group, work in Parliament and with the broader media.

Central to this though is the industrial muscle of Civil Service workers.  Within a couple of weeks we had achieved 3 key changes from the employer – their decision suddenly became a proposal, a 2 month extention to their consultation period and they conceded that the movement of work from non-Sheffield locations into London had a more relaxed timeline.

However this is not enough – we are determined to keep our office open and have now upped our political work to make direct representations to the prime minister and the Secretary of State Sajid Javid (yep the steel man!)– who has so far refused to meet us.  We have also agreed to ballot for industrial action and to increase the ballot if management don’t agree to withdraw their proposals.

PCS Left Unity is absolutely clear that this government isn’t interested in efficiency and cost savings; their supposed Iron Chancellor has wracked up more debt than every other government in British history whilst simultaneously slashing services relied on by huge numbers of working class people. Our activists have been at the forefront of every campaign PCS has fought since it was created – and electing these class fighters will ensure the battle against cuts will continue. PCS Left Unity calls on all PCS branches and the wider union movement to look at ways to support the march and rally to defend BIS jobs in Sheffield on 9th April.

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