UK ministers to scrap target of cutting 91,000 civil service jobs

Graduate fast-stream recruitment to resume but jobs target could be replaced by budget cuts

Ministers are planning to scrap the target of cutting 91,000 civil service jobs and resume recruitment of graduates through the fast-stream scheme in a reversal of Boris Johnson-era policies.

Whitehall sources told the Guardian that the announcements were likely to be issued within the next few days in a letter to officials.

The policies brought in by Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Cabinet Office minister under Johnson, were widely criticised for being arbitrary and counterproductive. However, government insiders said there were concerns that the target could be replaced by budget cuts at the autumn statement, which departments would find difficult.

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, is giving his long-awaited statement on 17 November, which is likely to include both tax rises and spending cuts as he seeks to fill a £35bn hole in the public finances.

Morale among some civil servants worsened under Johnson’s premiership, with hostile briefings from senior government figures criticising the numbers of officials working from home, the prospect of a below-inflation, 2% pay rise and uncertainty about their future due to the 91,000 job cuts target.

Johnson wrote to civil servants in May, arguing that the government had to reduce its costs “just as many families are doing”. He said that after Covid and Brexit, “we no longer require the state to have the same colossal presence in people’s lives”.

Liz Truss’s administration sought to water down the proposals, given the high upfront cost of redundancies, which could have reached several billion pounds, and instead set its sights on making more gradual job cuts.

But a week after Rishi Sunak entered No 10 as prime minister, sources said he was poised to abolish the target completely.

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS union, said the government had been forced to recognise that the 91,000 target was “political nonsense which would lead to huge damage being done to public services”.

He added: “Our campaign for more investment in the civil service carries on. We shall continue with our national strike ballot, urging our members to vote yes as we seek a 10% pay rise for them, as well as improved terms for their pensions and redundancy arrangements.”

The civil service fast-stream programme, which recruits about 1,500 university leavers a year, is also set to resume. When it was initially shut down, ministers were warned that the move “risks cutting off the supply of people who have the digital and project management skills to improve public services”.

A government source told the Guardian: “We’ll be guided by getting the best outcomes at the most efficient cost. That’s what business does and it’s the way we’ll deliver the best services for the British public.”


Rowena Mason, Heather Stewart and Aubrey Allegretti

The GuardianTramp

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