Every man for himself as public sector cuts loom?

A survey suggests civil servants won't make compromises to save their colleagues' jobs. Not very accommodating, is it?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
The day before the Chancellor announces £80m worth of cuts, most of which will hit the public sector, and you’d have thought its workers would be keen to put forward a united front against one for whatever Osborne throws at them. Not so, according to a new report, which suggests that civil servants are decidely unwilling to take one for the team. Apparently, less than a third say they would be willing to be paid for fewer hours to save their colleagues’ jobs, while fewer than 15% would accept a wage cut to help minimise job losses. In some ways you can't blame them - but the private sector's already had to swallow changes just like these...

The Institute of Leadership and Management, which conducted the survey of 806 public sector managers, says just 4% of would be willing to take a sabbatical and a mere 2% would be happy to work for free (not many eyebrows raised there). That’s in pretty stark contrast to some firms in the private sector who, during the deepest part of the recession, found way to cut payroll costs without slashing jobs. Thousands of KPMG workers, for example, took sabbaticals to save their firm money, while about 800 BA workers spent a month working for free.

Opinion seems to be divided over whether all these existing jobs are necessary or not, though: while about half of the managers questioned were fairly positive, saying it would be relatively easy to find savings in their department (although we imagine it'll be harder in practice than theory), 27% said they’re operating at full capacity and will struggle if cuts are made, while another 23% said they expect front-line services to suffer. Although happily for the Chancellor, 4% said front-line services would actually improve...

Now, admittedly it’s hard not to be a bit sceptical about this particular sample, given that 6m people work in the public sector (so this represents less than 0.01% of the workforce). But the survey does raise an important point. If the public sector does want to minimise some of the impact of these cuts, it needs to start taking lessons from the ways in which the private sector firms coped in the recession.

OK, so the average KPMG worker is probably better placed to take an unpaid sabbatical than most civil servants. But it wasn’t just white-collar workers who accepted pay cuts and reduced hours to save their colleagues during the recession: Honda staff, for example, accepted a 3% pay cut and a four-month plant shutdown in order to save 490 jobs. Will the public sector staff be equally accommodating?

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