Boris Johnson is heading for a standoff with the civil service after ordering ministers to reduce the size of Whitehall by a fifth to free up billions for tax cuts.
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The Prime Minister used a “cost of living” cabinet day in the Midlands yesterday to demand that his senior ministers “double down their efforts to ease the financial pressure on struggling families” by cutting up to 90,000 public sector jobs Daily Mail reported.
Johnson told the newspaper that Whitehall had “swollen” during the pandemic, adding: “We need to cut government costs to bring down the cost of living.”
“Boris vs. Blob”
Speaking to ministers during the Stoke-on-Trent meeting, Johnson said taking action to ease the cost of living crisis must be at the forefront of all government work that of the sun Deputy Political Editor Kate Ferguson.
She added that the Prime Minister told his Cabinet colleagues: “I wake up every day and think about what we can do to help people at this time, just like we have helped people through Covid.”
Reducing the size and scope of the civil service has been a long-standing goal for the prime minister since his election in 2019. His former right-hand man Dominic Cummings has previously referred to Whitehall in a dig of his size, Ferguson as “the blob”.
ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana last night tweeted Details of a letter from Cabinet Secretary Simon Case setting out plans to reduce the size of the civil service to 2016 levels within three years. This, Asthana said, would result in the loss of around 91,000 jobs.
Ministers are understood to have had a month to draw up a workforce reduction plan which “could save around £3.5billion a year”, the Daily Mail reported, “freeing up resources to lower the cost of living”.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, defended the plan this morning, saying Sky news: “I know it sounds flashy, but it just comes back to the public service we had in 2016.
“Since then we have had to hire people for certain tasks. So dealing with the fallout from Brexit and dealing with Covid has a reason for this surge, but we are now trying to get back to normal.”
Storm is brewing
The Prime Minister told the Daily Mail last night that the savings will flow straight into tax cuts, saying: “Every pound the government is withholding from taxpayers is money to spend on their own priorities and their own lives.”
But the “bloodbath” at the workplace has put the government on a “collision course” with the “powerful” public sector unions, the newspaper added.
Dave Penman, FDA secretary general, said that if the prime minister decides to cut jobs, he must also decide “what the reduced civil service will no longer be able to do.” This could affect services such as passports, border controls or health.
“Without an accompanying strategy, these cuts look more like a continuation of the government’s culture wars in the public sector — or worse, ill-conceived, hasty job cuts that will not result in a more cost-effective government,” he added.
Labor also attacked the plans, arguing that the government is engaging in “pointless rhetoric” while showing a “lack of action” when it comes to implementing an emergency budget to give more support to people struggling with bills Offer.
Alex Thomas, policy making and public service expert at the think tank Institute for Government, tweeted a warning that the 90,000 job cuts cannot be achieved by shedding “back office” roles alone.
“Don’t believe anyone who says 90,000 can be achieved through efficiency alone,” he warned. “Ministers need to prioritize if they want to avoid resources being too thinly distributed and their political plans failing.”
He also added that plans to reduce the size of the civil service through a “hiring freeze” were “crude”, saying: “It means cuts will be made indiscriminately. And it’s difficult to shift resources in public service – people have different skills, experiences and contracts.”
The move shows that Johnson is “trying to tear the agenda away from COVID outlaws,” he said Politically Alex Wickham giving the Prime Minister some much-needed respite after the Metropolitan Police announced a further 50 firm penalties for breaking the rules at Downing Street last night.
But there has been “a major showdown with the civil service,” he added.