A SENIOR union official last night accused Rhodri Morgan of talking gobbledegook as the First Minister tried to deny that 1,200 civil service jobs were at risk.
Yesterday we revealed how Assembly Government managers were proposing to cut 20% of the 6,000-strong workforce over the next three years. The plan came to light following the leak of minutes from a top-level meeting of officials held in May.
At a press conference yesterday, during which he gave his administration eight marks out of 10 for its performance, Mr Morgan tried to dismiss the story.
He told reporters, "This is based on an allegation or a kind of conversion figure done by civil servants based on departmental running costs. All I can say is, there is never a time in which we don't exert downward pressure on departmental running costs.
"In a week when the Beecham Review (on public services in Wales) is published, we will be very conscious of the fact that we have to show the same amount of leadership as local government does and as the NHS does, on reducing the overhead costs of providing public services, because everybody wants the maximum level of conversion from money spent on the overheads into money spent on front line services.
"You can't make any kind of conversion therefore of any reduction in running costs, meaning a reduction in civil service jobs, because it might be a reduction in the number of civil service jobs in the departmental running cost line and an increase in the number of civil servants - there could be the same civil servants with the appropriate amount of retraining working on programmes, they'd be switched to the front line, as it were.
"But we have always said, for instance, post the mergers, we never said there would be no efficiency savings arising from the mergers, but we have said we thought it could be managed without any compulsory redundancies, so there is nothing new or newsworthy in this story."
We sent a 2,000-word transcript of Mr Morgan's entire comments on the issue during the press conference to Jeff Evans, the senior national officer for Wales of the Public and Commercial Services Union.
Mr Evans said, "Most of this is gobbledegook and I can't understand most of it."
The total Assembly budget is £13bn and covers the totality of Welsh expenditure.
Staff costs are the main component (81%) of the Assembly's running costs.
"The document we have shows how well advanced the Assembly management are in the delivery of the cuts.
DRC running cost budgets have been allocated to group heads in the Assembly and three year budget plans are being drawn up by them which include cuts on the scale we describe.
"This is further evidenced by the second assumption in the minutes which states, 'year-on- year decreases in DRC allocations alone for 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09 would potentially require an overall reduction in the workforce of 20%'.
"This, in our view, is clear-cut. There is only one workforce in the Assembly and the cuts in central administration (DRC) budget will require a 20% cut in the workforce."
Last night an Assembly Government spokeswoman said, "The figure quoted by the union is misleading. It is not based on firm proposals and is certainly not a target. It is a calculation by the union based on provisional budget figures.
" It does not take account of the significant manpower flexibility we have such as the number of temporary staff which is approximately 7% of the overall workforce or staff turnover where around 200 staff leave us each year. Neither does it take account of other costs included in DRCs such as overtime payments, allowances and travel and subsistence costs.
"DRC levels are adjusted each year to meet business needs and we have not yet had our mid year review of budgets or looked in detail at subsequent years as part of the annual budget cycle.
"The union has quoted the leaked paper as fact. In fact, it is a paper intended to generate discussion on how the Assembly Government can deliver effective and efficient services and release resources to strengthen front line services."