Departments may need to make compulsory redundancies as part of their efforts to support the prime minister’s goal of cutting 91,000 civil service jobs over the next three years, internal guidance has revealed.
Senior officials have been told to assess the extent to which they might need to use both voluntary and compulsory redundancies, along with voluntary exit schemes, to help bring staff numbers down to 2016 levels.
A memo from the Cabinet Office and Treasury to departmental finance and HR directors, which also acknowledges some work will need to be “deprioritised” as staff numbers are cut, says departments should try to fund any exit schemes from their existing budgets, but can apply for extra cash if needed.
But departments should be mindful that creating voluntary exit schemes “may reduce natural attrition”, the official-sensitive document, which is copied to permanent secretaries, departmental chief operating officers and heads of functions, adds.
Ministers have so far given sparse details of what the proposed cuts – announced in the press last month and equating to one in five civil service jobs – could look like.
Government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has said the easiest way to cut numbers would be to implement a hiring "freeze", saying nearly 40,000 civil servants leave their roles each year.
The Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are among the ministries that have already implemented hiring freezes in a bid to give themselves room to plan early.
The memo provides further detail on the submissions departments have been told to submit to the Cabinet Office and Treasury, modelling cuts of 20%, 30% and 40% of their staff over the next three years.
Every department must model these three scenarios, regardless of its role, historic growth, insourcing or machinery of government changes – but these factors will be taken into account when ministers decide how many of their staff each department will need to lose.
Ministers have said the proposed cuts are needed to reverse a "temporary" increase in civil servants that has happened since 2016 to complete work associated with Brexit and the Covid pandemic.
But the memo acknowledges that reducing staff numbers could impact services and departmental programmes.
"As far as possible departments should aim to mitigate any adverse impacts on the delivery of public services and wider government priorities. However, it is recognised that in some instances departments will need to consider reprioritisation," says the memo, which directs officials to focus their attention on improving efficiency and reducing "lower priority programmes and commitments" first.
Departments' submissions should highlight "significant impacts and risks on departmental outputs" caused by each of the modelled scenarios, "including activities that may need to be deprioritised, wider government priorities including levelling up and civil service reform, structural issues, key levers for delivering the proposed headcount reductions, and any major equalities impacts".
The memo gives guidance on the different avenues departments could use to achieve these cuts.
Departments will not be required to freeze hiring altogether, it says, but will need to demonstrate they have “robust workforce controls in place to minimise recruitment” but allow them to fill skills gaps.
While it is ultimately up to perm secs and HR directors to decide exactly what these controls will look like, they are expected to cover the creation of new roles; new external recruitment; and the use of contractors and consultants.
Jobs that are already being advertised will need to be reviewed, and departments should consider where to extend existing temporary promotions for a short time "until their future workforce structure has stabilised".
Departments are also expected to implement strict criteria for signing off new consultancy contracts or use of contingent labour “to ensure these are not used to bypass their workforce controls”.
“There will be a high bar for increased use of non-payroll resources and this will only be considered if overall costs are lower than current forecasts and with improved outcomes,” a separate technical guidance sheet warns.
Automation and improvements to services could also be used to reduce the number of people required to work on them. Digital transformation is “essential to delivery of the scale of efficiencies required”, it says.
Departments must therefore work with the Central Digital and Data Office to assess how overhauling internal functions, such as IT service support and onboarding, and external functions, such as in-person processing of passport applications, could support their workforce planning.
Officials should work with the CDDO to assess the cost and feasibility of delivering extra automation and digitisation projects over the next three years to support the cuts programme, according to a separate document setting out technical guidance for departments’ submissions.
Officials should be looking at changes to “all key enabling programmes”, not just automation, to enable cuts, it adds.
The memo stresses that officials must look at every area of their department when considering any changes.
“There are no civil servants or groups of civil servants that are exempt from these returns regardless of the work they are undertaking or whether their function was undertaken outside the civil service in 2016, or is a new sovereign function,” it says.
Departments will need to proactively seek trade unions’ views on options for making the cuts, and should keep working with them throughout the process to maintain “productive and effective industrial relations”, the memo says. Civil Service HR will meanwhile engage with trade unions on a national level.
Departments have until 30 June to complete their returns, which must be signed off by a secretary of state.