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'Reverse Raj' in the offing?

After scores of British corporates moved operations to India, the British government is planning to follow suit.
By Indo-Asian News Service | None, London
UPDATED ON JAN 25, 2006 07:27 PM IST

After scores of British corporates moved operations to India, the British government is now considering switching thousands of civil servants' jobs in a move that is already dubbed as 'reverse Raj'.

In what is billed as the biggest exercise to downsize the government, ministers are reported to be secretly planning to move several government tasks such as social security and pensions to India or eastern Europe where costs are much lower.

The plans are considered 'unprecedented'. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), the large ministry in Whitehall, is supposed to be the first in this exercise to outsource its call centres and some other functions to India.

A confidential document dealing with the security implications of such an exercise, leaked to the British media, reveals that the government is considering proposals by private companies to take work overseas.

The department document entitled "Offshoring process", obtained by the PCS, the large union of civil service, says: "In line with the continuing need for government departments to reduce costs, proposals are being made by services providers to undertake work for or on behalf of the department overseas.

"This could involve the transfer of part or even all of the functions of a DWP area of business that would have previously been located in the UK to a centre located outside of the UK," says the document, written by the department's security team.

The reports, which have infuriated unions, say that one or two minor civil service functions involving small groups of employees have already been moved "offshore", but never whole business areas of a major Whitehall department.

Leaders of PCS fear that the policy is being replicated in other ministries. The union expressed concern that call centres dealing with pensioners, job seekers and benefit claimants - some of the most difficult queries to deal with - may move overseas.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS, said his organisation had not been consulted despite the fact that 70 percent of the department's 120,000 staff were members of the union.

"This shows utter contempt for unions and the workforce. The document clearly shows they are not flying a kite, these are detailed security proposals.

"This government has privatised more civil service work than the (Margaret) Thatcher and (John) Major governments. When in opposition, Labour would have cried foul if a private company did this.

"Politically, this is huge. It is the government as an employer prepared to look overseas to cut labour costs. The question is, do we want a public service based in Britain, serving the citizens, or do we want to move to a more commercialised model?"

A growing amount of National Health Service back-office work is also going to India under a joint venture between the NHS's shared financial services and Xansa, one of the largest outsourcers of finance and accounting.

The latest move follows decisions by two government departments - the Office for National Statistics and the Department for National Savings - to start replacing British-based staff with overseas employees earning a fifth or less of British salaries under deals with private firms.

The biggest deal is reportedly being implemented by German-owned Siemens Business Systems, which proposes to transfer all records on births, marriages and deaths to Chennai.

A spokeswoman for the DWP said: "We have no plans to move any of our contact centres or any of our other services offshore. Some of the suppliers for our support services such as IT may use offshore sub-contractors. That is entirely a matter for them."

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