Civil service unions are calling for Liz Truss's government to drive improved relations between ministers and officials, slamming the impact that Boris Johnson’s administration had on morale.
FDA and Prospect union chiefs Dave Penman and Mike Clancy said Johnson’s government – “and certain ministers in particular” – had “unleashed a relentless assault on the dedicated officials serving the public and created a very damaging culture”.
Under Johnson, ministers launched regular attacks civil servants, including criticism of working from home, flexitime and "woke" woke training sessions, with then-Cabinet Office minister, now-business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg one of the most critical voices. New home secretary Suella Braverman is another who has regularly attacked the civil service, accusing officials of “remain bias” and describing diversity jobs as “part of the problem, not the solution”.
Meanwhile, officials have been threatened with 91,000 job cuts; pay rises have been eclipsed by soaring inflation; and the cost-of-living crisis is hitting civil servants hard, with one in 12 officials using food banks, according to a survey by civil service union PCS.
Writing to new Cabinet Office minister Edward Argar, the union chiefs said they hope the appointment of Truss as prime minister can provide the impetus for a "reset" in the relationship between civil service unions and the government.
Improved relations will depend on ministers being prepared to engage in "serious dialogue" on critical issues such as pay, job cuts, redundancy terms and the cost-of-living crisis, they added.
However, Truss showed little sign of seeking a truce with officials during the Conservative leadership election, pledging to stamp out “woke civil service culture that strays into antisemitism”, scrap diversity and inclusion roles and clamp down on arm’s-length bodies.
Another civil service union, PCS, is now balloting its members on whether to go on strike over pay and conditions, and the FDA has warned its members could also take industrial action.
The FDA and Prospect said they told Argar last week, during a meeting organised by the minister, that the impact on morale from Johnson's government was the worst they had encountered of various administrations over the last two decades.
They said they asked Argar: ‘Why be a civil servant?’”
A government spokesperson said: "We are incredibly grateful to the civil service for the outstanding job they do in delivering for the public.
“Minister Argar recently invited public sector unions to an introductory meeting and we are fully committed to ongoing engagement with staff and unions.”