The Cabinet Office will lose a quarter of its staff over the next three years as part of the government’s push to cut 91,000 jobs, Jacob Rees-Mogg has said.
The government efficiency minister has said his department will “lead by example” in the workforce-slashing drive.
Writing for the Telegraph, Rees-Mogg repeated the government’s claim that reducing the size of the civil service to 2016 levels would save more than £3bn and “restore our bureaucracy to a sensible size now the pandemic has passed”.
“The Cabinet Office is leading by example with a 25% reduction in headcount over the next three years, which will be an opportunity for significant reform as well as savings,” he said.
The figure would see the department losing officials at a slightly above-average rate. Hitting the 91,000 target would require a 20% cut across the civil service.
Earlier this summer, officials were asked to model reductions of between 20%, 30% and 40% in each department. The figures – submitted to the Treasury and Cabinet Office at the end of June – were to be analysed in July and August, before the publication of a civil service-wide plan setting out departmental targets.
The figures must be signed off by a cabinet committee before being made public, according to internal guidance.
Asked whether Rees-Mogg’s comment indicated the Cabinet Office’s allocation of planned job losses had been finalised, a government spokesperson said: “As people across the country are facing huge living costs, the public rightly expect their government to lead by example and to be run as efficiently as possible.
“Ministers have been tasked to draw up plans to return the civil service to its 2016 levels over the next three years and that work is ongoing.”
Asked for further detail, including how the minister had calculated the 25% stat, the spokesperson said Rees-Mogg’s words in the Telegraph “speak for themselves”.
There were 10,008 civil servants – 9,801 full-time equivalent roles – working in the Cabinet Office as of May 2022, when Boris Johnson announced his headcount-reduction plan.
Rees-Mogg targets ‘bureaucratic Whitehall bloat’
In the column announcing the figure, Rees-Mogg lambasted Conservative Party leadership candidate Rishi Sunak for failing to make use of the Efficiency and Value for Money Cabinet Committee – the same committee tasked with scrutinising departments’ modelling of staff cuts.
Rees-Mogg, an ardent supporter of Sunak’s leadership rival Liz Truss, said the former chancellor had hindered the committee’s cost-cutting mission by cancelling meetings at the last minute.
“Earlier this year, the Efficiency and Value for Money Cabinet Committee was established with a mission to save the taxpayer over £5.5bneach year. This was sadly under-utilised by the former chancellor, but it must be a vital tool in the next prime minister’s arsenal for cutting waste and inflation,” the government efficiency minister said.
But he said the Cabinet Office had managed to make some progress towards his £5.5bn goal. Cross-government efficiency data published by the Cabinet Office in March showed £3.4bn in savings in 2020-21 – which Rees-Mogg characterised as “removing unnecessary inefficiencies and waste”.
The figure included £1.8bn saved by reducing losses to fraud and debt, and £1.4bn in savings attributed to “improved buying decisions”.
Rees-Mogg attributed the savings to “tight control on spending and an emphasis on reducing fraud”. The savings appear to have been a result of better contract management, data sharing and other mechanisms – rather than any cuts to staff. Some £1.4bn is attributed to the government counter-fraud function, which is made up of some 16,000 people.
But the minister went on to say that the “pressures of public business” faced by government are “not an argument for more civil servants”.
“Completing the reduction to 2016 levels, by some 91,000 officials, [by] 2025 will save the taxpayer over £3bn and restore our bureaucracy to a sensible size now the pandemic has passed,” he said.
He also said that cutting inflation and taxes and growing the economy – his stated priorities for the next prime minister – would not be possible “without political determination to make Whitehall as lean and efficient as it can be”.
“The savings I have described should be a mission for all ministers in the new government, from the chancellor of the exchequer to the most recently-appointed under-secretary,” he said.
“Cutting taxes must go hand in hand with trimming the bureaucratic bloat of Whitehall, only that way will we bring inflation down and restore the economy to growth.”