‘Smaller and more efficient’ – Defra looks to transformation schemes to help offset hiring freeze

Written by Beckie Smith on 10 June 2022 in News

Environment department has implemented ‘strict recruitment controls’

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affair claimed that its existing transformation schemes will play a key role in enabling it to continue to operate smartly while working within the constraints of “strict recruitment controls”.

In a memo sent by the department’s HR unit – and seen by PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World – staff were warned that an effective hiring freeze will be implemented for the next three months at least. While these measures are in place, only “critical” roles can be recruited, with all appointments requiring approval from a director general or chief executive.

Beyond the initial three-month embargo, the department warned that its approach to recruitment “won’t return to how it was” for some time.

“The likelihood is instead that we will have to operate some forms of recruitment controls over the coming years,” it said. “We will need to work together to develop a longer term, more informed, nuanced, and effective system for the future.”

The department’s existing transformation programmes are a “good starting place for where we might become smaller and more efficient”, the memo added.

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“We know that this announcement may feel sudden and some of you may find this challenging and difficult. Please take extra care to consider your and your teams' wellbeing at this time,” it said. “It is however important to stress that we will have time to work through these proposals and time to deliver on them. We will make sure that the actions we take are in line with our values, so that Defra continues to be a brilliant place that does important and impressive work.”

The restrictions are intended to help meet ministers’ aim to cut civil service jobs by 91,000 over the next three years.

The freeze will help Defra to get a head start on its own headcount reduction, which the department’s leaders hope to achieve mostly through “natural attrition”, it said.

But the department warned that redundancies may be needed “as a last resort” to hit targets.

“We will be doing everything we can to protect jobs and minimise the impact on individuals,” the memo read. “We know this is difficult news, particularly if you or your team have been carrying vacancies or are stretched. However, we believe that in taking action now we will have more options about how we meet any challenges later on.”

The department will honour job offers that have already been made for candidates that are already going through the “onboarding process” – but even jobs currently being advertised could be withdrawn.

“We are looking at what we need to do with recruitment that is currently in process and will let you know soon,” the missive said.

The hiring restrictions came into effect on 25 May and cover permanent staff, fixed and short-term appointments, contingent labour and contract extensions across both the core department, and its civil service arm’s-length bodies: the Animal and Plant Health Agency ,Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the Rural Payments Agency and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science.

Career-entry routes such as the Fast Stream, Civil Service Care Leaver Internship Scheme and apprenticeships can only be used to hire people if the job fulfils the “critical role” criteria.


About the author

Beckie Smith is deputy editor for PublicTechnlogy sister publication Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared. She tweets as @beckie__smith.

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