The Government has pushed back its consultation over plans to close the Sheffield base for hundreds of civil servants with “a huge amount of FE expertise”, FE Week has learned.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) was accused of launching an “FE brain drain” after unveiling plans in January to close its Sheffield office (see right), which it is feared could lead to nearly 250 people losing their jobs.
Lois Austin, the PCS full-time official for BIS covering the Sheffield office, told FE Week on Thursday (March 3) that widespread opposition to the plans to centralise the department’s policy-making in London had forced BIS to delay its consultation by two months.
She said: “They told us back when all this was first announced that the consultation over the closure of the Sheffield office should be completed by the start of March. But we’ve now been told that it will be May 2, which shows how shaken up they are by the scale of opposition to this.
“They’re saying that centralising to London will save money and improve policy decisions.
“But we asked Permanent Secretary [for BIS] Martin Donnelly for evidence of the analysis they have done to prove this and no one from his team has been able to provide this.”
Mr Donnelly held strained talks with representatives from PCS on February 29 and further talks between the union and senior BIS representatives took place two days later, Ms Austin added.
It comes after a former senior employee at BIS told FE Week the planned closure of the Sheffield office, where they produce most BIS data on FE and skills, would amount to an “FE brain drain”, as “they all have a huge amount of FE expertise and it looks like everyone will lose their jobs”.
The source claimed that BIS had not offered sufficient resettlement packages to make moving to London a viable possibility for many Sheffield staff, and failed to take into account the number of part-time female staff, who would find moving south near impossible.
A BIS spokesperson told FE Week on Thursday: “There are ongoing discussions with staff members and their representatives to support staff affected, but any specifics would be confidential and so we can’t comment on anything individuals might have said.”
Mr Donnelly has previously said: “The decision to close Sheffield by 2018 has not been taken lightly. It is my top priority that all our staff are fully briefed and consulted on the process. We will provide comprehensive support to all those facing a potential change or loss of job.”