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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 September, 2004, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
UK expertise 'at risk from cuts'
A vet working during foot-and-mouth disease
Foot-and-mouth disease showed the need for experts
The UK is facing a dangerous shortage of experts to deal with key scientific problems because of cash cuts to the civil service, a trade union says.

Prospect accuses ministers of "dumbing down" and says the main parties are in a "mad dash" to cut the civil service.

The union suggests the UK is now constantly at risk of being ambushed by new problems like mad cow disease.

The government plans to axe 104,000 civil service jobs but it says it is shifting resources to the "front line".

'Wrong priorities'

Prospect, the professional workers' union which represents thousands of civil service staff, published its Intelligent Staff, Intelligent Government report on Wednesday.

It argues a government obsession with costs is putting quality at risk.

The union's general secretary, Paul Noon, said: "The government is busy trimming its housekeeping bills while the fabric of the building is subsiding.

The public sector is losing key skills it needs for the state to be an effective policer
Jim Cousins
Labour MP

"Professionals working for government are down in number by more than a third over the last 10 years.

"Physicists, chemists, engineers, electronic experts, veterinary staff, environmentalists and other important specialisms have all suffered.

"This has reduced government's ability to respond to the demands of an increasingly knowledge-based society."

The report highlights the privatisation of air traffic control, defence and horticulture research and engineering support to the Navy and plans to sell off the Forensic Science Service.

The union is calling for a halt to further privatisations or public-private partnerships,

The report highlights the privatisation of air traffic control, defence and horticulture research and engineering support to the Navy and plans to sell off the Forensic Science Service.

New challenges

The union is tabling a motion at this month's Trades Union Congress warning that efficiency plans for the civil service - outlined in this year's Gershon report - risk cuts to essential services, including national security.

Labour MP Jim Cousins, a member of the Treasury select committee, is worried the changes will come as the UK faces entirely new environmental, national security and tax fraud issues.

Mr Cousins too was concerned about privatisation of expert agencies.

He told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "The public sector is losing key skills it needs for the state to be an effective policer and regulator to modern, complex activities."

In a statement, the Treasury said: "Peter Gershon's report was a comprehensive and rigorous review of procurement, back office services and work practices.

"We make no apology for implementing recommendations that will shift the focus from back room to front line and deliver improvements in the quality of public services that will be welcomed by users".




SEE ALSO:
How big is the civil service?
06 Sep 04  |  Politics


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