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July 24, 2014

Ministry of Justice staff strike over data ‘sell-off’

PCS Union protests against Steria shared services move.

By Joe Curtis

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) staff are on strike over proposals to outsource back office data, citing job cut concerns and fears over sensitive information being moved overseas.

More than 100 workers in the MoJ’s Bootle centre started a six-day strike today to protest against the department outsourcing back office functions to Shared Services Connected Limited (SSCL), with them due to join Newport-based staff for a 24-hour strike on July 31.

If the proposals go ahead, hundreds of MoJ staff will join the firm as the department becomes the latest Government division to outsource its back office data to the company.

SSCL is 25% Government-owned but 75% belongs to French IT services firm Steria, and it will handle data including finance, payroll, HR and prisons from various departments in a deal potentially worth more than £1bn over 10 years.

Strike organisers Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) have highlighted job loss fears and the potential for sensitive information to be handled overseas.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "Not only does this move threaten the security of sensitive personal and financial information, it is a cynical exploitation of the inferior pay and employment conditions of workers in other countries."

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Moreover, the move comes after Steria presided over a failed MoJ IT system that wasted £56m in written-off costs.

The MoJ’s shared services programme (SSP) aimed to create an ERP system for HR, payroll, procurement and other services, but the department shelved the project when it realised the Cabinet Office had duplicated the project in 2012.

Steria was one of three firms to win the SSP contract, aimed to deliver savings of £28m a year by 2014, but the MoJ realised the Cabinet Office had already implemented a similar project – which turned out to be Steria’s SSCL scheme.

"After millions was squandered on IT in the Ministry of Justice, it appears Steria is being rewarded for failure with this contract that it has already confirmed will mean hundreds of job losses," said Serwotka.

A MoJ spokesman said it was crucial to modernise its back office IT.

"We have engaged with staff and unions throughout this process and have listened to their concerns. We are disappointed with their decision to strike," he said.

"Our contingency measures will ensure that staff are paid on time and that this action has minimal impact.

"We need to modernise our aging back office systems and make them more efficient for taxpayers — this change will save over £100m of public money in the next seven years.

"Staff will have their current terms, conditions and pensions transferred to their new employer."

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