Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Blair Is Dragged in to Defend Brown

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Blair Is Dragged in to Defend Brown

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Linford And Dave Black

Tony Blair last night found himself dragged into the mounting furore over plans to slash 40,500 public sector jobs as worried civil servants in the North-East sought assurances over their future.

Union leaders were left reeling from Gordon Brown's Budget announcement of pounds 20bn worth of staff cuts which they claimed would lead to a "collapse of morale" among remaining public sector staff.

Thousands of jobs in the North-East are under threat as a result of the announcement, affecting three Government departments which between them employ more than 25,000 people in the region.

Last night Mr Blair was forced to defend his Chancellor's plans, while Mr Brown himself claimed that many of the clerical posts under threat had been rendered obsolete by the march of new technology.

Mr Blair, during a Labour Party event at a school in Enfield, north London, said it was important to have a "slimmed down centre of government".

And the Chancellor insisted that while it was "regrettable" that such a large number of jobs had to go, new technology meant that many clerical posts were no longer needed.

But their comments cut little ice with the unions, who demanded urgent talks with ministers over the plan to axe 30,500 posts in the Department for Work and Pensions and 10,000 jobs in the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise. The three services employ about 25,000 staff in the North-East, around half of them at the civil service complex at Longbenton in North Tyneside

Last night Tony Jarvis, regional secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union which represents many of the workers, said the Chancellor's announcement had created a growing climate of worry and uncertainty. "We have had a number of members calling us today from Longbenton who want to know more about what is involved in this announcement but as yet we don't know any more detail than we did yesterday," he said. "Members are clearly concerned about whether, as individuals, they will have a problem or not but the overwhelming feeling is one of uncertainty," he added.

Mr Jarvis said that along with the other civil service unions, Prospect and the First Division Association, the PCS has written to request a meeting with the Cabinet Office Minister.

Mr Brown plans to reduce manpower in the three departments and plough the savings into front-line services like education, transport and the police. Some Government officials and Tyneside MPs have already said they believe it is unlikely that Longbenton will bear the brunt of the job losses. An Inland Revenue spokesman yesterday insisted that no hard and fast decisions had been made, nor would be until the chief executive of the new merged Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise department is in place. …

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