Page last updated at 15:58 GMT, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 16:58 UK

Court case over MoD job cut plans

Officials from the Prospect union and its lawyers outside the High Court
Prospect officials say the scheme breaches civil service rules

A court challenge is being made by a union over the terms on which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is said to be seeking to shed 5,000 civilian jobs.

Prospect, which represents 16,000 defence professionals, has brought the action at London's High Court.

It said the MoD's early release scheme was "unlawful" on the grounds it only offered lower "flexible" severance pay.

The MoD defended its practices saying it sought to give volunteers wanting to leave "maximum flexibility" to do so.

The action is being contested by the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr Justice Wyn Williams has indicated he will not give a ruling on Tuesday.

The MoD's department-wide voluntary early release scheme was launched in March 2005 in connection with the civil service-wide reductions required under the 2004 Spending Review.

The cost in severance payments in the 2006-07 financial year was 17m.

Union officials claimed that the scheme was unlawful "on the grounds that it only seeks to pay cheaper 'flexible' severance payments in making staff redundant".

'Management code'

The union said its judicial review application would have a major impact across the civil service, whatever the outcome.

Public accountability requires us to ensure we are getting the best value for money when paying people to leave
Ministry of Defence

"In supporting evidence, the union says that because the purpose of the scheme is to help reduce the number of civilian staff by at least 5,000, the MoD should use the more favourable 'compulsory' severance terms, rather than seeking to make job cuts on the cheap," Prospect said.

"Prospect says the MoD scheme breaches the terms of the civil service management code and the civil service compensation scheme."

The union added that if it won the court case then the MoD would have to revise the existing release scheme and its plans for achieving staffing reductions.

'Value for money'

The MoD said its "restructuring exercise" was designed to free up funds for military operations.

Its priority was to ensure that staff whose skills might be needed in the future were not let go.

"This is...not a redundancy situation and the civil service management code and civil service compensation scheme are clear in allowing 'flexible' and 'compulsory' terms to be offered," an MoD spokesman said.

"Public accountability requires us to ensure we are getting the best value for money when paying people to leave."

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