Ministry of Justice IT bods to strike over outsourcing fears

British contracts for, er... whoever's the cheapest. Steria and Arvato line up

Nearly half of the unionised techies at the UK's Ministry of Justice have voted to strike over proposals that could shift IT service work into the private sector.

At the heart of the matter is the Cabinet Office's excitingly titled Next Generation Shared Services Strategy, which was published in March 2013: the strategy's overall aim is to save between £400m and £600m in public spending by consolidating eight departmental service centres to five.

Arvato – a business process outsourcing (BPO) player – acquired the Department for Transport's centre in Swansea in June last year, while Steria's joint venture with the Cabinet Office took over finance, procurement and HR for the Department of Work and Pensions, Defra and the Environment Agency in November.

The Ministry of Defence and HMRC continued to run their own standalone centres, as did the MoJ: one team at the justice ministry managed back-office functions for 90,000 workers in Blighty's prisons, the probation system and the courts. The MoJ's centres are based in Newport and Bootle.

But fast forward to this spring, and as exclusively revealed by El Reg, the MoJ confirmed it was considering the future of these admin functions and pondering whether the techies were delivering value for money.

The privatisation of the MoJ's service centre is one possible plan; Steria or Arvato would bag any new contract. And either could decide to offshore jobs, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union has warned.

A spokesman for PCS told us 47 per cent of the 380-strong membership voted, and 93 per cent these supported strike action. A decision by the MoJ on whether to keep the centre within the civil services or outsource it to the BPO providers is due on 23 June, the PCS said.

"We have written to the MoJ to notify them of the ballot result and are asking them to reflect on the clear feeling of their staff. Clearly their response will be an important factor in deciding what happens next," the spokesman told us.

"We hope the result will cause them to pull away from privatisation, if that is what is being planned."

The PCS predicted HMRC's Independent Shared Service Centre could be next to head down the privatisation route, and stoked the fires by warning about the security of data if sent abroad.

We asked the MoJ for comment, and a mouthpiece sent us the same blurb from March: "The department is considering options for the future delivery of back office admin services. All options will be evaluated to make sure they provide value for taxpayers' money… We will work with staff, trade unions and other stakeholders to assess any impacts on staff". ®

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