BIS job cuts plan would hit research councils and Offa

Leaked plan drawn up under Sajid Javid details impact on key sector bodies

April 22, 2016
Sajid Javid exiting 10 Downing Street, London, England
Source: Alamy

Staff numbers could be cut by at least 17 per cent in the UK research councils and by two-thirds in the Office for Fair Access, if plans developed under business secretary Sajid Javid to “go further than savings required” are carried out.

A leaked Department for Business, Innovation and Skills document – marked “official, sensitive” – outlines projections for staffing levels by 2020.

Overall across BIS and its funded bodies, 1,526 jobs out of the current 11,809 total would be cut by 2020 (a 13 per cent reduction) under the plans.

McKinsey, the management consultants enlisted by Mr Javid to work on BIS savings plans, has suggested an even more dramatic reduction of a further 2,577 jobs, the document shows.

The fact that BIS has drawn up its own figures may suggest that it is not following the McKinsey projections – but this is not made clear in the document.

The overall level of staffing cuts was reported on by The Daily Telegraph. But the BIS document, seen by Times Higher Education, also gives further unreported detail on the impact on higher education and research bodies.

The research councils would lose 265 jobs from their current 1,576 total (the McKinsey projection says 568 jobs should be cut on top of this), while Offa would lose 12 from its current 18 total.

The document, which pre-dates last month’s Budget, is part of the BIS 2020 plan for savings in the department and the organisations that it funds. The document says: “Agreed BIS 2020 savings go further than savings required to live within control totals over the Spending Review period. Delivering full BIS 2020 will provide capacity for front-line activity.”

A reduction in “BIS Core” staff would see 192 of 2,469 current jobs cut by 2020 (and by a further 757 in the McKinsey projection). The department has already outlined plans to close its Sheffield office, a centre for higher and further education policy.

At the Higher Education Funding Council for England, 47 of 264 current jobs would go (a further 81 in the McKinsey projection).

Nick Hillman, the Higher Education Policy Institute director, who worked in BIS as an adviser to Lord Willetts, said: “It is surprising the department knows so precisely how many people it needs for delivering higher education policy when we haven’t seen the higher education bill yet and when the proposals are likely to metamorphose as they go through Parliament.”

James Wilsdon, professor of research policy at the University of Sheffield, noted that the Nurse review and Green Paper had outlined plans to bring the research councils together under a new Research UK body, which he said was in “acute tension” with planned job cuts.

The research reforms would require staff “who are properly paid and have a sufficient mix of experience and skills to be able to manage a reformed system”, he added.

Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central and a member of the BIS Committee, said of Offa cuts: “The government have set an ambitious target of increasing access to higher education, but they will fail if they slash the team who will be key to its achievement.”

A BIS spokesman said that there have been “no changes to the plans already announced and discussed extensively with Parliament”.

He added: “We have deliberately set ourselves challenging savings targets consistent with the Spending Review and we will continue to explore options in detail before making decisions.”

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