Guernsey Press

Is redundancy a major obstacle in the way of public service reform?

IT TAKES a lot to surprise me these days, but I recently discovered something astonishing about our public sector which needs to be far more widely known.


I was certainly glad to be sitting down when I discovered it.

It would appear that in 2006, the then Civil Service Board and Public Sector Remuneration Committee made some startling changes to the employment terms and conditions which have had major repercussions ever since, and will be fundamental to any desired future reform of our public sector.

Although Guernsey has no statutory redundancy law, as a general rule of thumb in the private sector an employee might typically receive one week of salary for every year of service, probably capped at around 10 weeks of salary, and maybe, at a real push, six months’ salary for a very long-serving employee.

Astonishingly, according to the current Redeployment and Redundancy Procedures section of the civil service ‘handbook’, dated September 2021, section 8.3 states that the redundancy entitlement is five weeks of salary for every year of service, capped at 20 years’ service – a maximum of 100 weeks of salary.

Yes, you’ve read that correctly. A long-term civil servant on an annual salary of £100,000 whose peers in the private sector might probably receive just over £19,200 (10 weeks) or £50,000 (six months) on being made redundant, would instead receive £192,000.

How or why such incredibly generous terms were able to be negotiated requires further investigation, but it is understood to have followed a local legal case known as Bichard.

Was it also possibly a partial trade-off of historic negotiations to amend the public sector pension scheme? But at what overall cost? Does it possibly explain why former States CEO Paul Whitfield was unable to deliver his frequently-promised 200 job cuts? Was the size of the required cheque far too high? I heard of a rumoured £40m. pay-off proposal being considered and rejected by a previous P&R, which sounded a ridiculous sum, but 200 x £200,000 would stack up.

One of the main purposes of the public sector reform workstream is to make government more efficient and save money, but if the size of any resulting redundancy cost pill has been made far too big for any P&R to expect taxpayers to swallow, then change will never happen, and inefficiencies will remain embedded in the system.

For the record, I don’t believe that there are currently large numbers of civil servants sitting around idle. Many of them are very seriously over-stretched and can’t achieve a fraction of what they could achieve if they and their teams were able to be more efficient.

The more pertinent question is to ask whether they are too busy following archaic layers of procedures which need to be reviewed and streamlined to eradicate unnecessary tasks which are stopping them from getting things done more efficiently?

I am hearing this from civil servants within the system – there are plenty of them who would clearly welcome working in a more efficient public sector where they can make a real difference, motivated by being better measured against very clear KPIs. Let’s not forget that they too are taxpayers.

I don’t accept for one moment that there would be wide-scale resistance to major efficiency changes from within. But one needs to break an egg to make an omelette. Freeing up good staff – and there are many of them – to make better use of their time would free up valuable resources to redeploy staff in the essential digital transformation programme.

It needn’t mean redundancies at all, but those huge contractual redundancy cost implications could well be a huge barrier to turning the public sector into what we all need it to become, and I will take some convincing that it hasn’t been a major obstacle to public sector reform since right back to 2006.