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Ministry's workforce grows while local government shrinks

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Staffing levels at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have increased 18% in the past two years, while the number of people working in local government has decreased nationally by 9% over a similar period, LGC analysis of government data reveals.

Local Government Association chair Lord Porter (Con) called the divergence “worse than double standards” as “rolling back the state obviously doesn’t mean that” for those working in Whitehall. He also questioned the value of central government’s civil servants.

“From the taxpayers’ point of view, local government staff add value to the lives of the people we work for. I would be interested to see if someone would like to say the same thing about central government staff,” said Lord Porter.

Although total staffing levels and payroll statistics at the ministry has generally trended downwards by 12% since 2012, it has witnessed a snapback in staffing levels over the last year in particular. The ministry’s latest figures, published on 27 April, show that in total 1,724 workers were working for the department in March 2018 compared with 1,462 in April 2016. This headcount only started to rise in July 2017, however.

An MHCLG spokesman said it had been “increasing its staff to deal with the Grenfell Tower tragedy and to deliver new housing programmes announced at autumn Budget.”

MHCLG data also showed there was a 22% increase in salary costs between February and March this year - £7.76m to £9.5m - despite the total staffing headcount only rising 1.6% for the same period.

The ministry’s spokesman said this was due to “a series of accounting adjustments, notably notional salary payments being allocated to staff for leave which has not been taken.”

Local government workforce figures from the Office for National Statistics are not as up-to-date as the ministry’s. But the most recent data shows in the two years from December 2015 the total local government workforce fell in size from 2.29 million to 2.08 million.

The size of local government’s workforce started to significantly fall in 2010 when it had numbered 2.89 million whereas central government’s total staffing level has increased since then. Between 2010 and 2017, the total central government worker headcount increased by 5% to almost three million people, while the number of workers in local government has fell 26% over the same period.

Clive Betts (Lab), chair of the Commons housing and communities committee, described LGC’s findings as “quite stark” and added “they show where the government’s priorities are”.

Mr Betts said: “It’s central government passing on responsibility for the worst cuts on to somebody else. Councils have tried to prioritise but there is a limit to how many clerks and administrators they can let go. Ultimately frontline services will suffer.”

Unison deputy head of local government Mike Short said: “Local government has been hit disproportionately by austerity policies coming from central government. Staff are left struggling to do more with less and sadly, it’s local services and communities that are really bearing the brunt of these cuts.”

Lord Kerslake (Crossbench), former civil service chief and the previous permanent secretary at the Department for Communities & Local Government, as it was then known, responded to LGC’s analysis by calling on the new housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire to “reinvigorate” the localism and devolution agendas.

“Mr Brokenshire needs to take this opportunity to make the case inside government for a very radical devolution policy, because there’s huge opportunities there if he gets it right,” said Lord Kerslake.

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