‘Absurd’: Truss urged to be transparent about civil service cuts

‘Pretending there’s fat to be trimmed without impacting on public services is dishonest,” union chief says
Photo: Benjamin Wareing/Alamy Live News

By Tevye Markson

10 Oct 2022

Unions have hit out at Liz Truss’s proposed changes to Boris Johnson’s three-year unpopular plan to cut 91,000 jobs, saying it is “dishonest” to claim money can be saved elsewhere without impacting services.

Truss will axe the former PM's 2025 deadline for reducing the headcount and instead slash the size of the workforce through long-term churn, media reports revealed last week.

The reports also suggested Truss wants to shift to a “hybrid model” of efficiency savings and job cuts to reduce departments' spending. Departments have been asked to find "efficiencies” and set out how they will contribute to the government’s flagship agenda of driving growth.

But “pretending there’s fat to be trimmed without impacting on public services is dishonest to voters”, Dave Penman, general secretary at the FDA, said.

“Whatever the cuts timeframe, if ministers want significant civil service savings, they must decide what [the government is] going to stop doing,” he added.

Cabinet Office minister Nadhim Zahawi is understood to have described the 91,000 job-cuts target – the number needed to reach the government’s goal of returning the civil service headcount to 2016 levels – as a “blunt instrument”.

However, it is understood that ministers still want the civil service to return to the size it was in 2016, and so the overall goal of the cuts drive remains unchanged.

Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, said: “After 12 years of cuts and now soaring inflation which means more huge real term budget cuts pushing services to the brink, the idea that further 'efficiency savings' can be found in departmental budgets is absurd,” Clancy said.

While the timetable is set to be extended beyond 2025, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka has called for Truss to go much further, asking the PM to create more jobs instead of reducing the headcount.

“Cutting 91,000 jobs will mean huge cuts in services, whenever and wherever they occur. Civil servants play a vital role in keeping our public services going – we need more of them, not less.”

Civil servants ‘deserve better than briefings to the press’

Clancy said civil servants “deserve better than constant briefings about the security of their jobs to the press” and called for the government to make announcements which affect the civil service "formally".

Johnson’s headcount reduction was announced via the Daily Mail and many of the subsequent announcements about the planned job losses have been revealed in a similar way. 

The Truss administration has not yet made any formal announcements about its strategy to reduce the civil service headcount.

Asked about the latest reports, a government spokesperson said: “As people across the country are facing increasing living costs, the public rightly expect their government to lead by example and to be run as efficiently as possible.

 "The reprioritisation, efficiency and productivity review will put in place plans to work more efficiently, including identifying headcount reductions across government."

Prospect also urged ministers to withdraw proposals to worsen redundancy terms for staff.

“Until that happens, dedicated public servants will remain concerned for their future,” Clancy said.

In August, the Treasury unveiled proposals to lower redundancy payments for civil service staff.

A government spokesperson said: "As people across the country are facing increasing living costs, the public rightly expect their government to lead by example and to be run as efficiently as possible.

"The reprioritisation, efficiency and productivity review will put in place plans to work more efficiently, including identifying headcount reductions across government."

Read the most recent articles written by Tevye Markson - Outcome delivery plans suspended after job-cuts saga and Autumn Statement

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