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After memos, Unite concerned over public sector reform 'in disguise'

Unite the Union has voiced concern that the Gibraltar Government is planning a major restructure of the public sector “disguised under the guise of Covid-19 and Brexit”.

The union was complaining about a lack of consultation prior to two circulars issued by the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary this week instructing senior manager to tighten controls on spending.

In the memos, managers in the civil service were told to cut all nonessential spending including discretionary overtime and ensure they adhere to budgets, with any supplementary spending requiring prior approval by the Cabinet.

They were reminded that failure to adhere to the instructions could expose them to personal financial liability for any unauthorised spending.

Managers were also asked to keep tight controls on inventory management and avoid nonessential purchases, as well as produce performance-related objectives that will be reviewed by the Chief Secretary’s office.

The union acknowledged that the dual challenges of Brexit and the public health pandemic had led to unprecedented public spending requiring stricter controls on spending.

But it said too that it was “extremely concerned” that the bulletins appeared to go further in addressing issues relating to the long-term sustainability of the public sector, and on which the union had not been consulted.

It questioned an instruction from the Chief Secretary that all non-essential spending must now be approved by the Cabinet, asking how efficient this would be in practice particularly in emergency situations.

It added too in this context that the memo lacked a clear definition of essential spending.

Unite also raised concerns about warnings in the circulars that senior managers could be held financially liable for any unauthorised spending.

It asked “…that instead of an officer being subjected to a financial liability, in the event of an error occurring due to the lack of definition, the agreed and in place disciplinary procedure is followed fully.”

But the union’s “biggest concern” related to its perception that the memos concealed a deeper agenda.

“Departments, agencies and authorities will be required to produce performance related objectives quarterly, whilst the public sector is eyeing a move towards digitalisation – that is, automation - something which will inevitably lead to a reduction in the workforce,” Unite said.

“Unite must express our deep concerns with regards to the lack of consultation prior to the Chief Secretary’s bulletin of circulars and the Financial Secretary’s parallel memorandum,” the union added.

“Unite states that if, as we suspect, any of these measures lead to any type of restructure of the public sector, Unite as a major stakeholder will be fully engaged in the process.”

“We therefore, request an urgent meeting with the Chief Minister to further discuss this current situation in more detail.”

Late on Friday, the GGCA said it had requested a meeting with Unite and NASUWT following the memos.

“The GGCA shares the concerns raised publicly by Unite today and is especially concerned with the lack of consultation with all three unions before the implementation of the financial measures,” the GGCA said in a statement.

“This is of particular importance given that all unions collectively broached the issue of non-consultation prior to announcing the Budget every year, which has been a consistent GOG practice.”

“The GGCA hopes that all three unions will be able to work together, and that the Government of Gibraltar will engage with us collectively on all matters relating to the control of public expenditure that will affect our respective memberships.”

Gibraltar NASUWT, the teachers’ union, also reacted to the circulars.

“We fear that there may be challenges ahead, but remain cautiously optimistic that there is also great opportunity for Gibraltar to come out of this crisis reinvigorated and its economy stronger than ever as long as proportionality and equity keeps us moving forward together and no one is left behind,” the union said.

“Our members are not sure how these latest financial instructions will impact the education sector, if at all, but we would like to better understand them.”

“During a short virtual meeting with our sister unions [Unite and GGCA] this evening, there was unanimity in the fact that we must all work together, including HM Government, to face and overcome any challenges which may lie ahead for the public sector through a process of meaningful and sustained consultation and collaboration.”

“Gibraltar NASUWT will seek to engage with HM Government shortly in order to begin this process.”

Earlier in the day, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo noted the statement from Unite and said he would meet with union representatives to discuss the measures.

"I look forward to meeting with my colleagues in Unite," he said.

"We have done great work together in the past decade since I became leader of the GSLP and I know we will be able to work together in coming weeks and months to ensure Gibraltar's financial stability and the protection of our public servants through the establishment of the long term sustainability of the public sector."

"That is clearly an aim we share and which we will be able to deliver together."

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