Sunak has no mandate for cuts, civil service unions say

New PM faces calls to dump headcount reduction plans and address shrinking real-terms pay
Rishi Sunak made his first speech as prime minister this morning. Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

By Jim Dunton

25 Oct 2022

Rishi Sunak has been hit with a list of demands from unions representing the UK’s 400,000-plus civil servants in the hours since he became Conservative Party leader and prime minister – and warned he has no mandate for further swingeing cuts to public spending.

Sunak arrived in Downing Street as prime minister shortly before midday today, following an audience with King Charles at Buckingham Palace. He succeeded outgoing PM Liz Truss as Conservative leader yesterday afternoon after both Boris Johnson and Penny Mordaunt dropped their rival bids.

Amid reports that Sunak is likely to push on with spending cuts being worked up by current chancellor Jeremy Hunt in the wake of Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-budget, Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy warned there was no public or party endorsement for such a plan.

“Rishi Sunak takes office with tens of billions of pounds of public spending cuts expected to be announced next week,” said Clancy, whose union represents professionals in the civil service.

“There is no public mandate for this reckless, rushed plan to slash public services that results from the last PM’s mini-budget.

“The recent chaos has also reduced investor confidence and risks critical infrastructure plans, particularly in the energy sector.

‘’Mr Sunak must reassure the public and public servants that they will not pay the price for recent incompetent governance and bring stability such that the UK is seen as a place to invest.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS – the civil service’s biggest union – called on Sunak to formally cancel a 20% headcount reduction proposed for government departments and their agencies back in May, and deliver a cost-of-living pay rise for officials.

“We call on Rishi Sunak to stop the planned 91,000 job cuts in the civil service, give our members an above-inflation pay rise and stop the inhumane plans to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda,” he said.

“Our members, who are already struggling, now face higher bills, mortgage increases and a cost of living crisis.”

As Sunak is now the third Conservative prime minister to take office since 2019’s general election, Serwotka called on him to go to the nation to get a mandate for any new policies from the public.

“We need a general election now and, until this happens, we will continue fighting back by encouraging our members to vote ‘yes’ in our upcoming strike ballot,” Serwotka said.

Amy Leversidge, assistant general secretary of public-sector leaders’ union the FDA, congratulated Sunak on his ascension to No.10 but reminded him that his new responsibilities also make him minister for the civil service.

She said the FDA was pleased that Sunak had signalled his intention to lead with “integrity”. However, she said he needed to act urgently to appoint a new independent adviser on ministerial standards as a successor to Lord Christopher Geidt, who resigned in June.

“We want to see an end to the culture of attacking the impartiality of the civil service, and a move to valuing our dedicated and hardworking civil servants by treating them with dignity and respect,” she said.

“With all the recent turmoil, the entire country should be grateful for our permanent civil service, which has once again ensured that the country has kept running.

“This is against the backdrop of uncertainty around jobs, with the announcement of cutting 91,000 civil servants looming in the background, real terms pay cuts and the uncertainty of the upcoming Treasury announcements on public spending.

“Civil servants are dedicated to public service and will always work incredibly hard for the country, but morale is at an all-time low and the new prime minister will need to address this as a matter of urgency.”

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