Remote work and regional pay: What Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have said about the civil service this week

Truss was forced to U-turn on pay plans, while Sunak wants to expand Prevent
Photo: Xinhua/Alamy Stock Photo

With the appointment of Britain's next prime minister less than a month away, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are stepping up the rhetoric to convince Conservative Party members they are the best person for the job. Voting for the next Conservative Party leader, which had been set to start this week, was delayed after security concerns were raised over the option for voters to recast their vote.

As the debates continue, Liz Truss has been much more vocal this week in sharing her ideas for the civil service – most notably a short-lived proposal to introduce regional pay boards for public servants.

Regional pay boards: this lady's for turning

On Monday night, foreign secretary Truss pledged to wage a “war on Whitehall waste” if she becomes prime minister – most notably by introducing regional civil service pay boards that could have led to officials living outside London and the southeast being paid less.

She U-turned on the pledge the following day, after a massive backlash when critics realised other public service workers’ pay would have to be cut to make the £8.8bn saving.

A Truss campaign spokesperson said there had been a "wilful misrepresentation" of the proposal, that it would only ever have applied to new recruits and that "current levels of public sector pay will absolutely be maintained.”

Annual leave and diversity jobs in the firing line

While Truss dropped the regional pay board plan, the remaining proposals in her drive to save £11bn a year remain on the table. Truss said she wants to reduce officials’ annual leave entitlement from 27 days to 25, and to scrap diversity and inclusion roles in the civil service – a move she said would save £12m a year. Annual leave entitlement in the civil service varies depending on department, experience and when you joined. Truss did not say where she got the 27 days figure from.

Work from home crackdown continues

This morning, Truss suggested she wanted to continue the push for more civil servants to work from the office. “I support the work Jacob Rees-Mogg has been doing... and I will be looking at that very carefully,” she said, referring to the government efficiency minister’s anti-remote working crusade.

The foreign secretary’s comments came despite her own department having one of the lowest desk occupancy of the Whitehall HQs. Challenged on the figures in last night’s Sky News debate, Truss said: 'The thing about the Foreign Office is obviously quite a lot of our people are travelling so it's quite hard to measure, but I would say that, including the Foreign Office, we do need more people to come into work.'

Truss has previously backed flexible working, telling MPs last year that it “doesn't just help women, it helps people who don't live in major metropolitan areas”.

Leaks condemned

Both candidates have warned civil servants – and everyone else – against leaks following the publication of news stories based on confidential documents, amid an increasingly bitter leadership race. 

Spokespeople for both contenders said their campaign “condemned” the leaking of government documents and said any instances would be referred to cabinet secretary Simon Case for investigation. Truss’s statement added that “neither campaign condones leaks of material and will not use documents it receives”.

Prevent expansion on the table

Sunak has proposed reforms to the Home Office’s controversial anti-radicalisation strategy Prevent.

The ex-chancellor said he wanted to “refocus the failing Prevent programme onto the UK’s most significant terror threat – Islamist extremism and widen the government’s definition of extremism to encompass those who vilify our country”.

He did not say what he meant by “failing”, but Prevent is currently being reviewed. CSW has meanwhile revealed that the board intended to provide independent oversight to the programme was effectively disbanded in 2018.

The pledge has been controversial, with former counter-terrorism chief Sir Peter Fahy warning: “The widening of Prevent could damage its credibility and reputation… It is straying into thought crimes and political opinions.”

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