Liz Truss backs off from 2025 target to cut 91,000 jobs

Staff cutbacks to 2016 levels still the "overall ambition" but three-year target "no longer set in stone"
Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Photo: Alamy/Evan Vucci/Pool via REUTERS

By Tevye Markson

07 Oct 2022

Liz Truss will tear up Boris Johnson's three-year timetable to cut 91,000 civil service jobs in favour of reducing the headcount through long-term churn, according to reports.

In May, Johnson announced proposals to cut a fifth of the civil service workforce to bring it back down to 2016 pre-Brexit referendum levels. He said the service, which had grown in recent years to deal with Brexit and the Covid pandemic, had become “swollen”.

Truss’s government is still committed to returning to the 2016 headcount, but is not committed to the 2025 target, according to the FT. Instead it will take a more gradual approach to reducing the size of the civil service to avoid redundancies that could cost up to £7bn, the newspaper reported.

However, the move may not in fact signal a radical change in direction as this is not the first time the government has suggested churn would spearhead the reduction. 

Following the 91,000 cuts announcement, then-government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said that the easiest way to cut numbers would be to implement a hiring "freeze", as tens of thousands of civil servants leave their roles annually, including 44,000 last year. But the short timeframe to cut so many roles meant compulsory and voluntary redundancies were also being considered.

However, new Cabinet Office minister Nadhim Zahawi has warned colleagues that, although the wipeout of 91,000 jobs could save the government £3.5bn annually,  the large-scale redundancies needed to achieve the three-year target would cost around £6bn-£7bn upfront, the FT said.

Zahawi, who has oversight of civil service reform, has concluded that the Johnson target is a “blunt instrument” that should be reviewed. 

“Getting back to 2016 levels is still the overall ambition but that will now be done over a different timescale,” a government source told the FT. “That target is no longer set in stone.”

Instead of attempting to rapidly get back to 2016 headcount in just three years, Truss’s government will turn to a “hybrid model” of efficiency savings and job cuts to reduce departments' spending, the newspaper said.

Last week, departments were told to find new “efficiencies” and set out how they will contribute to the government’s flagship agenda of driving growth.

Meanwhile, the Fast Stream, paused as part of the plans to slim down the civil service, could return soon, with a government source telling the FT to “watch this space”.

Truss has not committed to her predecessor's 91,000 job-cuts target, despite calling for a "leaner" civil service during this summer's Conservative Party leadership contest.

Earlier this year, as foreign secretary, Truss reportedly pushed back against a request to eliminate around 900 roles in her department. 

Departments submitted modelling of the impact staffing cuts of 20%, 30% and 40% over the next three years would have on their performance to the Cabinet Office and Treasury earlier this year.

There were around 478,000 officials in the civil service as of March, compared to around 384,00 in June 2016, when the UK voted to leave the EU.

In August, the Treasury was said to have "gone cold" on the planned headcount reduction after seeing what the cost and impact on public services would be following a review by previous Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay. At that time, the cost of redundancies was estimated to be £2bn.

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

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