In Stoke on Thursday to debate the price of residing disaster, Boris Johnson instructed his cupboard: “Folks, we’re going to get through this … jobs, jobs, jobs is the answer.” Simply hours later, it emerged that nearly one in 5 civil servants are set to lose theirs.
Rishi Sunak’s spending assessment final October had already set an intention of returning to 2019-20 ranges of Whitehall staffing – pre-pandemic ranges – by 2025; however this new pledge would see the civil service again to its pre-Brexit measurement.
It’s the solely the newest in an extended line of effectivity drives aimed toward slimming down Whitehall. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown commissioned businessman Sir Peter Gershon to advocate methods the civil service might be leaner.
One among his suggestions when the report was revealed in 2004 was a discount of greater than 70,000 civil service posts – in addition to large-scale redeployment from backroom to frontline roles.
When the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition arrived in 2010, pledging to restore the injury completed to the general public funds by the worldwide monetary disaster (or as they’d have it, by Gordon Brown), civil service job cuts had been a central a part of its austerity technique. Frances Maude was introduced in to advocate reforms.
The dimensions of the civil service declined sharply all through the coalition’s interval in workplace, from a peak of round 490,000 in 2009, to fewer than 390,000 earlier than the EU referendum in 2016.
Because the cuts intensified, there have been rising strains in some departments – in addition to tales of seasoned specialists being employed again into departments as consultants at the next value.
Alex Thomas, of the Institute for Authorities, factors to the Division of Well being and Defra as departments the place essential experience was misplaced in repeated effectivity drives and subsequently got here to be wanted.
Of Defra, he says: “It was a department that had to rebuild quite significantly from 2016 onwards, and some of the people who really knew the ins and outs of EU regulations in the environmental and agricultural field were not there any more.”
After Brexit, the variety of civil servants surged nearly again to 2009 ranges, as the federal government tooled as much as negotiate the UK’s exit with a full-blown Brexit division – since dismantled – and took on duties it had lengthy subcontracted to the EU, akin to commerce negotiation.
Nonetheless, Johnson’s goal of 91,000 job cuts is an bold one. The newest official figures present there have been 475,020 full-time equal employees within the civil service in December – so success would imply 19% of them leaving the payroll.
The coverage serves multiple objective: it goals to save cash, at a time when Rishi Sunak is reluctant to open the purse strings; and suits with the Johnson authorities’s ideological suspicion that the general public sector is full of pettifogging remainers.
Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings was preventing his personal private warfare in opposition to the Whitehall “blob” earlier than he was ejected in November 2020, however senior ministers have continued to assault civil servants publicly.
Johnson himself not too long ago complained of a “post-Covid work-from-home mañana culture,” whereas the Tory chair, Oliver Dowden, urged civil servants to “get off their Pelotons and back to their desks”.
Extra not too long ago, the Brexit alternatives minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has infuriated Whitehall employees by finishing up spot-checks of departments and leaving passive-aggressive notes on the desks of employees who had been working from house.
Thomas, a former civil servant himself, says if a part of the federal government’s motivation is to go to warfare with Whitehall, it received’t make this newest effectivity drive any simpler. “If ministers are serious about reforming the civil service and reducing civil service numbers, it’s hard enough already without trying to pit the civil service against you.”
And with regards to financial savings, which the federal government claims will probably be greater than £3bn, these are usually not all the time as nice as hoped, says Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Research.
“It depends what you spend on the redundancy payments, which is not a trivial element, and it depends whether you end up hiring people back in a couple of years,” he mentioned, including that choosing an arbitrary quantity and pursuing it single-mindedly has its dangers. “They’ve no idea whether 90,000 is the right number. You do need to monitor this quite carefully.”