Hunt confirms timeline for 66,000 civil service job cuts in Autumn Statement

Autumn Statement productivity review update sets out schedule for cuts target
Photo: Imageplotter/Alamy Live News

By Tevye Markson

22 Nov 2023

The chancellor has set out the timeline for departments to bring the civil service headcount back down to pre-pandemic levels in his Autumn Statement. 

An update to the government’s public sector productivity review, published in today’s Autumn Statement, says: “The civil service, excluding devolved administrations, has grown by around 66,000 since 2019; capping headcount at current levels could save up to £1bn by March 2025.

"To go further, after the current Spending Review period, government departments will be asked to produce plans to reduce the size of the civil service to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the next Spending Review period.” 

It follows Hunt’s "civil service numbers cap" announcement last month that civil service expansion would be “frozen” and a plan would be put in place to return it to its size before the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time, he said departments would then be asked to produce plans “on driving down headcount over the long-term to pre-pandemic levels”.

This is the first time the Treasury has specified a timeline for reducing the headcount to pre-Covid levels beyond March 2025, when the current spending review period ends.

The Autumn Statement now specifies that the target for departments will be to cut 66,000 jobs to reach the 2019 level by the end of the next Spending Review. 

The Treasury has said the cap – which came into effect immediately in October and will be in place for the duration of the current Spending Review period – “does not equate to a recruitment freeze, and current recruitment campaigns will remain ongoing”.

The projected saving up to March 2025 is based on a projection that the number of full-time equivalent civil servants would reach 490,000 by that date, up from 457,000 as of June, based on the upward trend since 2016.

Unions slammed the policy when it was announced last month.

FDA general secretary said: “It is so glaringly arbitrary that all it does is demonstrate that this is not a serious government."

Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, said the policy "shreds any remaining doubts about the prime minister’s lack of personal commitment to civil servants”.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said “shrinking an already-overstretched and under-resourced civil service will inevitably result in cuts to vital services that people depend on”.

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