Liz Truss is reportedly fighting prime minister Boris Johnson’s proposals for sweeping headcount reductions across the civil service and instead seeking extra funding and more staff for her department.
The foreign secretary, tipped as a potential successor to Johnson, is said to have written to the PM setting out her case for exemption from the cross-civil service requirement for 91,000 job cuts over the next three years, set out last month.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay have explicitly told secretaries of state that all bodies within their departmental group are in the scope of the project to identify a 20% staffing cut for the civil service over the spending review period, which is the government’s target. Permanent secretaries have been given until the end of this month to set out modelling for a range of headcount-reduction scenarios – the toughest of which is 40%.
According to The Sun, Truss has written to Johnson rejecting a request for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to cut 900 staff – well below the 20% minimum sought for the civil service.
The FCDO’s most recent annual report said the department had a headcount of around 16,700 as of March last year. Of those officials, 9,261 were based outside of the UK.
The Sun said it had seen a letter from Truss to Johnson in which she resists a call to make 5% cuts – which would equate to 835 roles based on last year’s figures – and instead asks for a 1% increase in numbers – which would equate to around 160 jobs.
In a reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Truss reportedly said anything less than such an increase would hamper the government's ability to “rise to the international challenges the UK now faces”.
The Sun quoted an unnamed source, described as being close to Truss, explaining that the foreign secretary believed the international situation meant it was the wrong time to be cutting the FCDO headcount.
“She thinks we should be investing more in defence, security and foreign affairs at a time of heightened global insecurity, so this is consistent with that,” they said.
Dave Penman, general secretary of civil service leaders’ union the FDA, said other secretaries of state would be facing similar predicaments with their own briefs.
“Departments have been ordered to model 20%, 30% and 40% cuts to staffing,” he said. “You can’t do that without impacting on government’s capability.
“Brexit, the pandemic and a new cold war have increased demands. She won’t be the only minister now realising what this means for their own priorities.”
Civil Service World offered the FCDO the opportunity to respond. It had not done so at the time of publication.