Civil service shrinks slightly

Spared from wholesale cuts in government’s newly proposed budget, the Cayman Islands civil service has nonetheless begun to experience some staff shrinkage, particularly since the start of 2009.

According to estimates from the Portfolio of the Civil Service, 3,680 people were employed within the Cayman Islands Government at the end of last month. That’s about a four percent drop in staff since the same time last year, and an even greater drop when compared to the end of 2007 when nearly 4,000 people held government jobs.

‘The reduction has been achieved by greater scrutiny being given to the recruitment of new positions, contract renewals and the filling of vacancies which have arisen,’ said Portfolio Chief Officer Gloria McField-Nixon.

Mrs. McField-Nixon said the staff reduction has saved about $4.4 million in annual salaries.

However, according to records examined by the Caymanian Compass under the Freedom of Information Law, the government service has hardly stopped hiring despite the announcement of a ‘soft’ hiring freeze in October last year.

From 1 July through 31 August, the Cayman Islands government has advertised 26 jobs on its intranet and additional positions have been posted in local newspapers and other media.

Those postings included everything from a chief financial officer for the Portfolio of Legal Affairs, to a Cayman Islands government marketing representative in Canada, to a senior statistician, to a filing clerk.

While that may not sound like a hiring freeze, Mrs. McField-Nixon said in the same two months last year there were 61 positions advertised on the government intranet.

‘It is also useful to note that some advertisements are not necessarily in relation to new positions or vacancies,’ Mrs. McField-Nixon said. ‘(They) are rather ads to determine whether there is a qualified Caymanian available to fill a post prior to a contract being renewed.’

Certain criteria are being used to determine whether a civil servant’s job needs to be advertised or filled during the period of this ‘soft’ hiring freeze.

First, chief officers are required to submit requests for exemption from the hiring moratorium prior to a job being advertised. Mrs. McField-Nixon said all 26 positions advertised between July and August went through this process.

Second, positions are considered based on how crucial the role is to the core services the government agency provides; whether the job provides front-line services or is involved in public safety; and whether the functions of a particular job are required by law.

The government also looks at how long a particular job has been vacant before filling it, and also whether the department advertising the position has operated within budget constraints.

‘The aim (of the hiring freeze) was to prevent growth in the number of staff employed,’ Mrs. McField-Nixon said.

Civil service staffing is likely to continue to come under the microscope, particularly with the proposed imposition of increased government fees – fees which have largely hit the financial services industry and other local businesses the hardest.

‘If public sector expenditure is brought into line with the realistic expectations of an island population of 57,000 people then it may well be that these revenue increases can be reviewed and reduced in the future,’ said Cayman Islands Financial Services Association Chairman Anthony Travers.

Mr. Travers said his organisation made a number of recommendations for raising public revenue that were eventually adopted within government’s budget, but he said the association would continue to monitor the impact of the revenue increases.

‘The revenue side of the profit and loss account is only one side of the story,’ Mr. Travers said. ‘The (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) recommendations with respect to major cuts to the public sector expenditure seem appropriate and must be considered in greater detail.’

A number of cost reduction measures such as overtime reduction, elimination of non-essential travel and take-home vehicles, and restricting hiring have been implemented since last year, according to Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson.

Mr. Jefferson said the proposed budget is balanced and showing a slight surplus at the end of the fiscal year on 30 June, 2010.