UNION bosses have accused senior civil servants of being "highly insensitive and crass" after a game involving party hats was used to identify cuts.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) say Department for Education (DfE) officials were encouraged to wear party hats while discussing the future of services.

The Department employs 480 staff at Mowden Hall, in Darlington.

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The Government is looking to cut about 1,000 jobs nationwide, and Mowden Hall staff could be moved elsewhere in the North-East.

Last night (Wednesday, January 16), the DfE said the meeting covered service improvements and not a sensitive issue such as job losses.

An internal blog, obtained by The Northern Echo, reveals senior figures, including director of finance and commercial, Simon Judge, put hats on their heads during a directors’ meeting.

They were only allowed to remove them when they revealed services they would cut to save money.

Kathy Prendiville, PCS’ education group secretary, said the behaviour of staff was “highly insensitive and crass”, and wrote to Chris Wormald, DfE permanent secretary, expressing the union’s upset.

She said: “This was a serious error of judgement and it is hard to understand how a group of senior civil servants could consider it appropriate.

“The Christmas period is no excuse for such a monumental loss of judgement, as virtually every member of staff in the department faced a Christmas of anxiety and worry for themselves and their families.”

In his blog, Mr Judge said he told colleagues that he could reach every DfE site - apart from Darlington - on his canal boat.

Ms Prendiville said: “This absurd joke is a clear and deliberate ridiculing of our members’ anxieties about having to relocate to sites miles away from their homes.

“Many of the staff cannot afford the journey to Newcastle, let alone a barge.”

Hundreds of Mowden Hall workers last month staged a protest to keep their jobs in Darlington, and a petition led by The Northern Echo has attracted more than 1,100 signatures.

It will be presented to Education Minister Michael Gove at Downing Street by The Northern Echo and Darlington MP Jenny Chapman.

Mrs Chapman said she was disappointed with the conduct of DfE staff.

She said: “They shouldn’t be making light entertainment out of the situation, they are public sector workers and we expect better from them.”

Janette Durbin, from the DfE, said staff had not behaved insensitively.

She said: “This was a regular meeting of directors and included an item on strategic planning to remove inefficiencies in systems and not staff reductions.

“The approach used was designed to be engaging about a subject that is not sensitive, and had it been so, we would not have used it.

“The management committee is fully aware of the impact of headcount reductions and we are committed to minimising uncertainty through clear and consistent engagement with staff.

“We have always said this would be a difficult and challenging time, but these are necessary steps if we want this country to have the best education and children’s services.”