A minister has slammed his own government’s decision to pause the civil service Fast Stream.
Greg Hands, minister for business, energy and clean growth, said the decision to freeze the grad scheme, which is run by the Cabinet Office, did not make sense.
The suspension of the Fast Stream is part of a planned recruitment freeze aimed at helping to deliver the prime minister’s announcement in May that the civil service headcount would be brought back to 2016 levels.
“It makes perfect sense to control the size of government and ask why and where it has grown since 2016,” the Department of Business, Environment and Industrial Strategy minister tweeted.
“It makes no sense to say, like this, that for one year, the best and the brightest aren’t welcome to serve their country,” he added.
Hands wrote his comments in response to a tweet by CSW showing the pause has now been confirmed on the civil service Fast Stream website.
The Fast Stream website says: “We have paused Fast Stream recruitment in 2022/23 for the 2023 intake.” It asks those who are interested in applying for the Fast Stream in the future to send an email.
The BEIS minister backed Boris Johnson ahead last month’s Conservative Party confidence vote in the PM, saying “he has done a very good job”.
The minister's comments were publicly backed by former cabinet secretary Gus O'Donnell, as well as backbench Tory MP and former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith.
Several commentators pointed out that Hands’s comments were in contravention of the ministerial code, which says ministers have a responsibility to maintain a united front in public once decisions have been made. They also questioned what this says about the authority of Johnson’s government amid a piling up of crises, from Partygate to a series of sexual abuse and improper conduct allegations.
Institute for Government programme director Alex Thomas suggested Hands's willingness to openly criticise a government policy "says something about the policy, its originator and the PM’s authority".
Unions are former ministers have slammed the decision to axe next year's Fast Stream intake. Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, said the decision smacked of “virtue-signalling short termism”, while Garry Graham, deputy general secretary at the Prospect union, called it a “chaotic and damaging” move.
Stopping the Fast Stream was described by former Cabinet Office minister David Lidington as a “very foolish” plan.
And former Tory leader William Hague said the civil service "needs more fast streamers if it is to be reinvented, but instead the government has opted for retrenchment".
A Government Spokesperson said: “We are committed to attracting the most talented young people to public service. As we reform the Fast Stream to focus more on specialist skills, training and regional representation, we are pausing the cycle of recruitment for 2023.
“Fast Stream places for this autumn will be honoured and other direct entry schemes will continue.
"We will continue to bring in diverse talent and expand roles and opportunities outside of London as we deliver a leaner and more cost-effective civil service.”