Boris Johnson apologises for uncertainty caused by civil service jobs cuts

PM insists investment in skills will lead to better opportunities for officials in future
Boris Johnson. Screengrab: Parliament TV

By Jim Dunton

31 May 2022

Prime minister Boris Johnson has sent a personal message to the nation’s 470,000 civil servants, apologising for the turmoil that the government’s plans to shrink departmental headcount by 20% will cause.

In a letter to staff ahead of the Platinum Jubilee bank holiday weekend, Johnson said he believed there was no alternative to the headcount reduction, but spoke of his belief that new and better opportunities would result from ministers’ long-term ambitions for the civil service.

“I know that this will cause concern and uncertainty and I am sorry for that,” the prime minister said of the proposed 91,000 job cuts – announced via the Daily Mail earlier this month.

“It is why I want us to complete this work swiftly and to provide every possible support to anyone affected by the changes that follow.”

 “Even with these changes, we are retaining a very substantial civil service – as we had in 2016 – and we are taking forward an exciting programme of modernisation that will create better jobs,” the prime minister said.

“This includes investing in the skills you'll need for the future, with new training and better access to technology, and opening up more opportunities outside London, closer to the people we serve.

“I know the period of change ahead will not be easy, but I am confident it is the right way to take forward the civil service that we all cherish, delivering the greatest possible value for the taxpayer and ensuring it remains fit to meet the challenges of the future as it has been in the past.”

The letter explained the need to reduce headcounts by saying: "We must ensure the cost of government is no greater than absolutely necessary to deliver for the people we serve. And as many families and businesses now look at how to reduce their costs in a period of higher global inflation, it is right that we do the same.”

One official, speaking anonymously to CSW, described the letter as tone deaf in it's reference to families reducing their costs with "no comment at all" on what job cuts would mean for civil servants and "their [own] battle with the cost of living."

Mark Serwotka,  general secretary of PCS – the civil service’s biggest union,said the government was able to find millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money for its millionaire friends or to buy Champagne for Downing Street parties but never for its staff.   

“The prime minister thanks civil servants in one sentence, tells them their jobs are at risk in the next," Serwotka said of the letter. “He is a disgrace and we call on him to stand down immediately for the good of the country.  

“His plans to cut 91,000 civil service jobs must be abandoned and extra staff recruited as soon as possible to help deliver the vital services relied upon by so many.” 

Departmental permanent secretaries and their secretaries of state have been given until the end of next month to submit their proposals for delivering on the 91,000 headcount-reduction target.

Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay and chancellor Rishi Sunak said this week that department-level figures for staff reductions should be agreed by the autumn.

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