'Tired rhetoric': Unions slam Rees-Mogg pledge to get civil service headcount ‘under control’

Minister's pledge to cut 65,000 jobs condemned as "personal crusade against public sector"
Jacob Rees-Mogg. Photo: Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street

By Tevye Markson

22 Feb 2022

Unions have hit back at Jacob Rees-Mogg's pledge to get the civil service headcount ‘under control’ by cutting at least 65,000 jobs.

The new minister for efficiency outlined his plans to shrink the civil service at the weekend, questioning whether it is "making the lives of British people better" at its current size.

Mike Clancy, Prospect’s general secretary, slammed Rees-Mogg’s “cheap shots” at the civil service in a letter sent to Rees-Mogg yesterday.

“Prospect’s public service members have continued to deliver for the country despite having endured 12 years of real-terms pay cuts,” he said.

“They do the work they do because they are committed to making a difference to people’s lives here in the UK, whether keeping our nation safe in an increasingly uncertain world, supporting our criminal justice system, or working at the cutting edge of science.

“What they deserve is a pay rise – not cheap shots in the press that they are unable to respond to.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka also criticised Rees-Mogg’s comments, saying: "Each cut has an impact not just on the individuals who will lose their jobs but on those who rely on civil servants to keep the country running.

"The only thing out of control here is one multi-millionaire's personal crusade against the public sector." 

The civil service shrank from around 470,000 full-time officials in 2010 to about 384,000 just before the 2016 EU referendum.

But this reduction has since been completely reversed, reaching around 472,000 last year, largely due to the Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

FDA assistant general secretary Steven Littlewood called for Rees-Mogg to explain which services he would choose to cut.

He said civil servants have gone “beyond the call of duty” in recent years in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges of Brexit.

Despite the growth in the civil service, Littlewood said “there are significant resource and workload issues in many parts of the civil service, not least in the justice sector where there remains a huge backlog of cases”.

“Of course, it is the right of governments to decide the size of the civil service, but it is also the responsibility of governments to match resources to policy commitments,” he added.

“Reducing the headcount means reducing the capacity of the civil service. Instead of talking in generalities and tired rhetoric Mr Rees-Mogg should spell out which services currently being delivered by civil servants he would choose to cut.”

Rees-Mogg, who was appointed minister for Brexit opportunities and efficiency earlier this month in a government reshuffle, told The Times he wanted to cut at least 65,000 jobs – the equivalent of around one in seven civil servants at the latest count.

He questioned whether the current size of the civil service is "making the lives of British people" better and said "the answer is probably no".

Ministers outlined plans in the autumn 2021 Spending Review to reduce the civil service headcount to pre-pandemic levels by 2023-24.

"There have been exceptional reasons why you’ve needed more in the last couple of years. But those reasons are coming to an end," Rees-Mogg said.

The minister also expressed a desire to get rid of arm's-length bodies, or quangos, questioning whether they are “doing something that anybody needs to do”.

In response, Clancy said “such comments rarely go beyond ill-informed stereotyping”, because those who work in ALBs “carry out work that is crucial to our country’s safety and economic prosperity”.

The Prospect general secretary has requested a meeting with Rees-Mogg to help the minister “gain an understanding [members'] their vital work”.

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