Bonfire of the quangos and ‘woke jobs’: What Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have said about the civil service this week

Sunak set out plans for vaccine-style taskforce, while Truss takes aim at civil service "groupthink"
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. Photo: PA/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

29 Jul 2022

The battle to be the next Conservative Party leader and, therefore, the next prime minister is down to the final two, with Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak the remaining hopefuls.

The victor will be decided by around 200,000 Tory members, around 0.3% of the country’s population, with voting taking place from the beginning of August until September 2. The winner will be announced on September 5 and will take over as PM the next day.

The duo were confirmed as the finalists on 20 July and have since locked horns at several hustings, as well as sharing their ideas via the media and social media.

CSW takes a look at what the two Boris Johnson's potential successors have said about civil service reform since they made the final two last week. Liz Truss had more to say on government reform this week – but both candidates gave some insight into changes they might make if they reach the top job.

Scrapping ‘woke’ jobs

Truss urged the PM’s then-political adviser Dominic Cummings to scrap hundreds of “woke” civil service jobs when she was international trade secretary in 2020, the Telegraph revealed on Tuesday.

She called for the abolition of diversity and inclusion roles and vowed to stand up to “risk-averse” Whitehall’s “groupthink”. Truss also said it is too difficult to fire underachieving civil servants, saying "poor-performing personnel are a major blockage to effective and timely decision-making".

The document, written Truss's advisers, also called for an “increased number of political appointees in ministerial offices” and a greater role for secretary of states in appointing senior civil servants.

The foreign secretary's allies said the document accurately represented how she would act as prime minister, according to the newspaper. They added that she was still concerned about huge “waste” in government and the “ineffectiveness” of much of the civil service.

Taking on the quangos

Truss pledged to “clamp down on arms-length bodies” on Saturday, saying she would redirect hundreds of millions of pounds from “bureaucratic bodies” to frontline services.

The foreign secretary told the Telegraph she would “review all quangos, clamp down on sprawling arms-length bodies and expunge those that aren’t fit for purpose”. It is unclear what the review will add, if anything, to the one kicked off by government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg in April.

She also vowed to create a leaner, more efficient state and “take on the Whitehall orthodoxy”.

This continues Truss’s campaign focus on big tax cuts and bringing down the size of the state.

Sunak has also shown a desire to drive down spending on ALBs. In March, the then-chancellor launched proposals for an efficiency drive on waste, including cutting £800m of quango expenditure.

The Treasury, under Sunak’s leadership, said it hoped to find this from reducing public bodies’ reliance on consultants, encouraging digitisation and extending the use of shared services and buildings.

Taskforce to tackle NHS crisis

Sunak warned this week that the NHS is facing its biggest crisis in decades and vowed to set up a “vaccines-style” taskforce to "cut bureaucracy and waste, and drive radical reforms".

The award-winning Vaccine Taskforce, set up by the government in July 2020 to enable the procurement, development and rollout of vaccines to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, helped the UK to be the first country to roll out Covid vaccines.

More Rwanda-style immigration policies on the way?

Both candidates committed on Sunday to push ahead with the controversial Rwanda immigration scheme, where some asylum seekers who arrive in the UK are sent on one-way flights to Rwanda.

Civil service union PCS has taken the Home Office to court over the “dangerous and inhumane” scheme, which it says “plays fast and loose” with its members’ safety and wellbeing.

Sunak promised to do “whatever it takes” to get the Rwanda plan “off the ground and operating at scale”, while Truss said she was “determined" to see the policy through to full implementation.

Both leadership hopefuls said they wanted to pursue further migration partnerships with other countries.

Light-'em-up Liz

Not content with just throwing quangos on the pyre, Truss this week also promised a “red tape bonfire” of EU laws. She said she would review all the rules retained in the UK post-Brexit by the end of 2023. Those that she believes to damage economic growth would then be either scrapped or replaced, she said.

Sunak has already promised to get rid of EU red tape within 100 days of becoming PM. He said on 16 July he would appoint a Brexit minister and give them 14 weeks to come up with recommendations for getting rid of or changing retained EU law.

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