The Treasury has told CSW it does not yet have a definition of what counts as a “non-frontline” civil servant, despite the Spending Review setting out a plan to cut these roles back to pre-pandemic levels.
Yesterday’s Spending Review documents stated that a cross-government efficiency and savings review had led to plans to save 5% from departments’ day-to-day budgets by 2024-25 that would then be “reinvested into priority areas”.
This would mean that “the government can reduce non-frontline civil service headcount to 2019-20 levels by 2024-25, helping to fund increases to frontline roles”, according to the Budget and Spending Review. “This will mean a more productive and agile civil service, taking advantage of new ways of working to continue to reduce inefficiencies and deliver better outcomes for the public.”
Asked by CSW for more information on the plans, the Treasury said that there was not yet a full distinction between frontline and non-frontline roles that could be shared, but that frontline roles were “operational staff”. Highlighted roles in this category include prison officers, Department for Work and Pensions work coaches, and court staff.
Although the Treasury spokesperson also said there were no confirmed numbers of non-frontline roles that would be lost, they highlighted that civil service job numbers had increased during the coronavirus response. According to the Office for National Statistics, the civil service headcount at the end of 2020-21 was 484,880, up from 456,410 at the end of 2019-20. When calculated on a full-time equivalent basis, employment was 452,830, up from 423,770 in 2019-20.
Civil service trade unions have reacted with fury to the apparent introduction of a distinction between frontline and non-frontline civil service roles.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said that the union would have to consider industrial action if the plan went ahead.
He told CSW: "The civil service needs more investment and jobs not dishonest and false distinctions between frontline and so-called backroom roles.
"Our members have performed heroically throughout the pandemic and if many are potentially set to have their jobs cut they will be forced to consider an industrial response."
FDA assistant general secretary Lucile Thirlby said that “the idea of pitting frontline staff vs non-frontline staff just isn’t based in reality”.
She added: “Cutting one to prioritise the other simply doesn’t work, they do different things and are both essential components of delivering high-quality public services.
“Who do you think develops detailed policies and provides analysis and evidence to ministers? Without that crucial work public services would take a huge hit, making the jobs of frontline staff harder and services delivered to the public poorer as a result.”