Government departments are working to a 30 June deadline to draw up plans to reduce their headcount by up to 40% in response to a demand from Boris Johnson that civil service staffing should return to 2016 levels, CSW has learned.
Secretaries of state have been told to report back on their departments' plans for achieving the workforce reductions by that date, Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft and second perm sec Tricia Hayes said in an update to staff yesterday.
Departments are understood to have been asked to model headcount reductions of 20%, 30% and 40% for consideration by ministers. The modelling is likely in recognition that the burden of reducing the overall civil service headcount by the 91,000 required to return to 2016 levels – around 20% of the total – will not be proportionately shared.
The letter suggests the submissions will be just the first step in the process of finalising the headcount reduction strategy, which is expected to continue throughout the summer ahead of final decisions in the autumn.
It adds that departmental returns submitted at the end of next month will be reviewed by chancellor of Rishi Sunak, Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay, government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg and cabinet secretary Simon Case. Work will be overseen by the cabinet’s efficiency and value for money committee.
Rycroft and Hayes warned Home Office staff that they need to “take a more disciplined approach” to recruitment to make sure the department does not “inadvertently exacerbate the challenge we are likely to face of reducing numbers”.
They said new controls have been placed on hiring activity for positions that are not already live, meaning a director general will need to sign off on recruitment until the picture of the Home Office’s future headcount needs becomes clearer.
“Whilst we can’t yet say exactly what the future will look like, please rest assured that we are as committed as we have ever been to our values and the One Home Office transformation,” they told staff.
“We firmly believe in a better future for this department and the people who work in it, and are both dedicated to realising our shared vision for 2025 and beyond.”
Two weeks ago, when details of the government’s plans to cut civil service headcount by 91,000 emerged, Case said he expected departmental perm secs to work with their secretaries of state “over the next month” on the plans.
At the time, he suggested a meeting of the efficiency and value for money committee was scheduled to take place earlier this week that would “set out the key parameters that departments and other civil service organisations will need to address in their own plans”.
Case’s letter to permanent secretaries acknowledged that delivering on the 91,000 target would be “exceptionally challenging”.
Cabinet ministers Rees-Mogg and Barclay had trailed plans for job cuts in the magnitude of the tens of thousands in recent months, but the 91,000 target announced earlier this month is a 40% increase on the 65,000 figure both men previously suggested.
PCS conference backs public-sector-wide campaign
Separately, the closing day of PCS’s conference yesterday saw delegates representing members of Whitehall’s biggest union vote unanimously in favour of a motion to oppose the cuts, including through strike action.
The motion rejected the government’s suggestion that the staffing reduction is necessary to improve efficiency. It stated that cuts to a civil service struggling with the increased demands caused by the pandemic and Brexit will cause further damage to public services, in addition to existing problems such as delays at HM Passport Office and the DVLA.
The motion also instructed PCS’s national executive committee to pursue a united campaign to protect public services and jobs with other public sector unions and the TUC.
National executive member Martin Cavanagh, who proposed the motion, told the Brighton conference the headcount-reduction proposals were a “further slap in the face” for a civil service workforce facing another real-terms pay cut expected to send thousands of members into poverty.
“The government lauded civil servants throughout the pandemic and pledged to build back better but now we know that their claims were worthless,” he said.
“We don’t know where the cuts will fall or when, or the impact on services. We need to build a broad-based coalition to fight these cuts.”
Cavanagh said it was “absolutely clear” that the civil service needed greater resource, not less, and investment in areas such as tax collection and infrastructure to create well-paid jobs.
Three weeks before details emerged of the plans to cut 91,000 civil service jobs, PCS declared itself in dispute with the government over pay. The move followed pay remit guidance for 2022-23 proposing average rises of 2% at a time when the benchmark Consumer Prices Index indicated inflation of 7% in the year to March.
A consultative ballot of PCS members earlier this year showed 80.7% were in favour of strike action to secure the union’s 10% pay demand and compensation for pension overpayments.
The Bank of England now expects inflation to top 10% later this year.