Top civil servant told: ‘Tell the truth on Sheffield job cuts plan’

A rally protesting the closure of the BIS department in Sheffield passes the building.

A rally protesting the closure of the BIS department in Sheffield passes the building.

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A top civil servant has been told to come clean over Government plans to axe 250 Sheffield jobs and move the work to London.

Martin Donnelly has been accused of ‘misleading’ MPs, who said his refusal to provide documents explaining the plan to shut the business department’s office in Sheffield ‘simply isn’t good enough’.

Trade unions protest march through Sheffield at plans to axe 250 jobs and move the work to London. Photo: Chris Etchells

Trade unions protest march through Sheffield at plans to axe 250 jobs and move the work to London. Photo: Chris Etchells

It comes as a leaked report seen by The Star shows that moving all the jobs from Sheffield to London would actually cost taxpayers an extra £100,000 instead of saving money.

The document reveals £1.5 million could be saved from buildings, rent and travel costs by closing the Sheffield office but it would cost an extra £1.6m in salary if all the jobs were moved to London.

It also reveals 90 per cent of the potential savings from moving the public servants’ jobs out of Sheffield to London is based on reducing the number of employees.

The Sheffield office is set to be shut by 2018, with a final decision on whether the move will go ahead being made next month.

Trade unions protest march through Sheffield at plans to axe 250 jobs and move the work to London. Crowds gathered in Barkers Pool for the rally. Photo: Chris Etchells

Trade unions protest march through Sheffield at plans to axe 250 jobs and move the work to London. Crowds gathered in Barkers Pool for the rally. Photo: Chris Etchells

The chairmen of two MPs’ committees wrote to Mr Donnelly demanding documents relating to the intended closure.

Mr Donnelly, permanent secretary of the business department, had told the committees there was no specific document that outlined the figures behind the move.

But Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield told the House of Commons he had seen a leaked document called ‘BIS2020 – Finance and Headcount outline’ which included the information.

MP Iain Wright, chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, and Meg Hillier, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, wrote a joint letter to Mr Donnelly saying his answers to MPs had not been good enough.

Trade unions protest march through Sheffield at plans to axe 250 jobs and move the work to London. Photo: Chris Etchells

Trade unions protest march through Sheffield at plans to axe 250 jobs and move the work to London. Photo: Chris Etchells

They said: “The information relating to the reorganisation of the department that you have provided so has been wholly unsatisfactory and your answers in oral evidence have been obfuscatory, if not misleading.

“Your refusal to disclose the information we have sought is unhelpful, unjustified and is impeding our ability to fulfil our scrutiny functions.”

The letter added: “We are asking for precise information about the work done to estimate the costs of different scenarios in relation to the closure of the Sheffield office and transfer of posts to London.”

Mr Wright said the response from Mr Donnelly ‘simply isn’t good enough’.

Martin Donnelly

Martin Donnelly

Ms Hillier added: “The Government must be held properly to account for its decisions and use of public money. In this case, effective scrutiny is being undermined by the department’s most senior civil servant.

“Taxpayers deserve better from those working on their behalf.”

But Mr Donnelly has refused to provide the finance report and said he was ‘unable to comment on a leaked document’.

He said the final costs of closing the Sheffield office are still being worked out.

Mr Donnelly said: “We have started to work through the likely associated costs of different options, recognising that the primary driver for savings is headcount reductions and that final decisions on headcount have not yet been taken.”

The response said £14.5m would be saved if the Sheffield office was closed and none of its staff replaced – with the majority of the figure made up of £12.8m salary costs.

BIS has previously said the work of the 247 employees whose policy jobs are at risk will be moved to London.

The Permanent Secretary is due to appear before the Public Accounts Committee next week.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: “BIS’s retreat from Sheffield goes against all the Government’s Northern Powerhouse rhetoric and what ministers claim to want for the civil service.

“BIS must come clean on its plans, including full costings, for Sheffield and the wider department.”

The union has announced it will ballot its members in Sheffield for strikes in protest at the closure.