Whitehall staff blast government official after hearing of job losses in the news

PUBLISHED: 11:11 09 July 2020 | UPDATED: 11:13 09 July 2020

A commuter passes a street sign on Whitehall, central London; Chris Young

A commuter passes a street sign on Whitehall, central London; Chris Young

PA Archive/PA Images

Civil servants blasted a Downing Street communications director during a heated conference call after discovering they would lose their jobs in the news.

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Communication staff in departments across government have expressed outrage at media boss Alex Aiken after finding out they could be made redundant in reports leaked to the media.

Aiken - who has taken a more aggressive approach to dealing with the press - apparently apologised to staff “for the way you learnt about these proposed changes”, in a fiery phone call, Sky News said.

Confirming the claims, he pleaded: “I recognise it has hurt people and I’m sorry about that, and I will work hard to regain your trust.

“If we need a redundancy scheme… then I suspect we will put that in place - but we are not in that place yet.”

Downing Street is planning to cut the number of communication officers across Whitehall to 30 or fewer per department while shifting to a “single-employer model”.

The new HR structure will move the management of those employees away from ministry heads and to the Cabinet Office.

The proposals have been in circulation since 2017 but were put off because of elections. They have now been given a breath of fresh air by Boris Johnson who is expecting them to come into effect from Christmas.

Aiken’s words, however, did not go down well.

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One worker called the announcement “tone deaf” while another attacked the “shockingly poor comms”. A third said: “This looks entirely political.”

Another said it was ‘incredible’ the order had come “from a PM who bumbles his way through every media appearance - that’s not political, that’s fact”.

A fifth person on the call asked: “Most times we have ministers that do not listen to our ideas... Why are we paying the high price for their lack of understanding?”

Aiken defended the decision, saying it would lead to “fewer, better, cross government campaigns” while harked up plans to televise daily press briefings.

Gary Graham, deputy head of the Prospect union that represents civil servants, criticised Downing Street for the move.

He said he had “never seen part of government act in such a chaotic and cack-handed way”.

He added: “The approach is crass and insensitive. Our members have been working tirelessly to support the country and keep the public informed through this pandemic - and this is how they get rewarded?”

He continued: “The chaotic approach taken has not only destroyed the confidence of staff but also risks damaging the public’s trust in the communications they receive from government.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Moving to a single employer model is a long-standing plan to make government communication more efficient and effective.

“There will now be a formal civil service process, overseen by a dedicated programme board. There will be full consultation with staff throughout this process.”

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