As ministers within the Department for Education face the prospect of civil servants staging a walkout over proposed job cuts, the full cost of making redundancies within the department has been revealed.
During the past three years the DfE has spent pound;40 million on redundancy payments, including a single pay-off of between pound;300,000 and pound;350,000 to a director of the National College. Between 2009 and 2012, more than 500 civil servants were handed severance packages, and the DfE has said it will cut a further 1,000 jobs between now and 2016 in an attempt to make more efficiency savings. Tens of millions of pounds are likely to be spent on further pay-offs.
The details of the most recent deals were revealed after a parliamentary question was tabled by Scottish National Party MP Mike Weir. Between 2009 and 2010, the year the coalition came to power, pound;23 million was spent on pay-offs. That figure dropped to pound;7.7 million in 2010-11 but increased last year to pound;9.3 million, equating to an average handout of more than pound;50,000.
The parliamentary question also revealed that millions of pounds more were given in severance packages to staff working at various arm's-length bodies.
Labour politicians and heads' leaders have condemned the expenditure on redundancies at a time when schools' budgets are being squeezed. Concerns have also been raised that the job cuts are coming as the DfE takes on more direct control of schools because of the rapid expansion of the academies programme.
Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said his opposite number could not afford to waste more money. "With school budgets being cut by the biggest amount since the 1950s, ministers must ensure value for money in everything they do," Mr Twigg said. "But the bill to sack staff is going up. After wasting pound;1 billion from mismanaging academies, Michael Gove needs to get a grip of his budget."
Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said: "If I am given a choice between money being spent in the DfE and on the front line then I would obviously say it needs to go to schools . But the massive shift in staffing across to the academies division just magnifies the reduction in services going to non-academies."
The figures are revealed just a week after the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents civil servants, announced that it intends to ballot its members in the DfE for industrial action over the plans to cut 1,000 jobs.
A report published by the DfE towards the end of last year revealed that it was to slash its headcount by a quarter as part of a process to save pound;290 million in running costs. Chancellor George Osborne has called for all government departments to reduce administrative costs by at least 33 per cent. Mr Gove had previously pledged to cut costs by 42 per cent by 2015 but has since decided to go further, stating that costs will be lowered by 50 per cent by 2016.
PCS negotiations officer for DfE Kathy Prendiville wrote to the Department's permanent secretary Chris Wormald to complain about the decision, describing it as a "monumental loss of judgement". PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said Mr Gove was using his department as a "test- bed" for wider civil service cuts. "With plans for a 50 per cent budget cut, Michael Gove is playing politics with people's livelihoods and the education of our children and future generations," he added.
A DfE spokeswoman said: "Over the coming months we will target our staff time and money on only our top priorities, cutting red tape and concentrating on the work that adds the most value. We are reducing the size of our back-room staff and merging offices to reduce the cost of our buildings.
"The DfE had already committed to reducing its administrative budget in real terms by 42 per cent from 2010-11 to 2014-15. Our target (now) is a 50 per cent reduction by 2015-16 and we have already achieved over half of these savings."
Photo credit: Getty
Original headline: DfE spends pound;40m on redundancies in three years