Any redundancies that are made as part of the government’s plan to cut 91,000 jobs in the next three years will be under 2010 terms, with a month’s pay on offer for every year served, according to Prospect after unions met with the Cabinet Office this week.
Unions, which are considering strike action over the plans, spoke to senior Cabinet Office officials after demanding a meeting following Boris Johnson’s announcement in the Mail last Thursday, which was blasted by unions as “crass and insensitive”.
Government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said last week that the easiest way to cut numbers would be to implement a hiring "freeze", as almost 40,000 civil servants leave their roles each year.
But officials at the meeting accepted job losses of this scale cannot be achieved by “natural wastage” alone and there would be a need to use voluntary exit or voluntary redundancy schemes, according to Prospect.
The officials were not, however, able to identify areas of work the government should stop doing as it loses staff and advised that departments and ministers would have to prioritise, the union added.
2010 terms 'confirmed'
Prospect said the Cabinet Office has confirmed that any voluntary exit or redundancy exercise “will be on the 2010 terms”.
The civil service shrank by around 86,000 staff from 2010 to 2016, from around 470,000 full-time officials to 384,000, under former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude’s reforms.
This reduction has since been completely reversed, reaching around 472,000 last year, largely due to Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unions agreed terms for voluntary redundancies in 2010, which included paying civil servants who exit through voluntary redundancy one month’s pay for every year worked, capped at 21 months.
Maude described this arrangement as “fair for the taxpayer”, “right for the long term” and providing the basis of an enduring agreement.
The Cabinet Office worsened the terms in 2016 to three weeks’ pay for every year served, capped at 18 months’ pay. However, the changes were deemed unlawful in 2017 after PCS took the department to the High Court and were reversed by the government after the ruling.
‘Disgust’ at how announcement was made
Prospect’s general secretary Mike Clancy and deputy general secretary Garry Graham attended the meeting in person, alongside FDA head Dave Penman, while PCS, prison officers' union POA and general trade union GMB attended remotely.
Graham said Prospect insisted that the meeting be in person for those able to attend given “the gravity of the announcement”.
At the meeting, the unions conveyed their “disgust” at how the announcement was made – with civil servants finding out about the large-scale cuts proposals via the media.
Officials acknowledged the upset and anxiety caused to staff and recognised the difficult position employers were put in, Prospect said.
Penman said, in a letter to members seen by CSW, that the conversation with the Cabinet Office and the messages from permanent secretaries apologising and explaining the announcement, made it clear that the decision to cut staff had been a ministerial decision “with little consultation or dialogue with officials in advance”.
Officials were unable to set out how the 91,000 figure was arrived at, Prospect said.
Graham said: “It is clear to us that this is a figure plucked from the air and driven by dogma as opposed to any clear-sighted analysis”.
Prospect and the FDA have written a letter to government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, seen by CSW, demanding an urgent meeting with him about the “insulting” proposals.
What did unions learn from the meeting?
Cabinet Office officials outlined how the cuts programme would be implemented at the meeting, with Penman telling members what the FDA had learned:
- Departments will develop plans for the staffing cuts over the next two months, supported by the Cabinet Office and Treasury, including details of the consequences.
- There is no budgetary target, with ministers instead focused on returning to the overall staffing figure from 2016. Penman said this shows the government is fixated on “delivering a civil service of a set size, not saving the taxpayer money”.
- Individual departments will not necessarily have to go back to their 2016 headcount as many have gained additional functions or been affected by machinery of government changes following Brexit. Penman said this could mean that some ministries will need to axe significantly more than 20% of their staff or that departments with significant new Brexit responsibilities will have to prune non-Brexit related parts of the department by much more than 20%.
The FDA has asked the Cabinet Office to clarify which organisations are affected by the cuts, including agencies and arm’s-length bodies.
Cabinet Office officials were not able to say how the cuts would impact devolved administrations but anticipated they would be expected to contribute proportionately to the overall strategy, Penman added.
A government spokesperson said: "We are incredibly grateful to the civil service for the outstanding job they do in delivering for the public.
"When people across the country are facing huge living costs, the public rightly expect their government to lead by example and to run as efficiently as possible. That’s why the PM has tasked the Cabinet to report back with a plan for returning the civil service to its 2016 levels over the next three years.
"Any speculation on where and how those reductions will be made is premature and we will set out our plans in due course."