Top official cites tech transformation as central to civil-service job-cut plans

Simon Case tells MPs that adopting new technology is one of three key strands supporting efforts to reduce civil service headcount

Credit: Howard Lake/CC BY-SA 2.0   Image has been cropped

Government’s most senior civil servant has cited digital transformation as one of three key strands of the plan to reduce the Whitehall headcount by a fifth.

Cabinet secretary Simon Case last week told MPs on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee that ministers’ intention to eliminate 91,000 government jobs would be achieved via efficiency, transformation, and prioritisation.

Efficiency-based cuts would be made through “removing duplication”, he said, while prioritisation activities would be focused on “choices about what’s going to get done in what order”.

Transformation “will particularly be about the adoption of technology”, Case told the committee. 

The cabinet secretary’s comments came as newly released commercial documents revealed that the Department for Transport has spent £100,000 on hiring a consultancy firm to help support a review process which aims to identify possible uses of digital tools and automation that could help deliver the efficiencies needed to meet ministers’ job-cut targets.

“This will include developing, challenging and agreeing the options to deliver radical savings through digitisation, automation, and organisational efficiency across the department’s group portfolio of responsibilities,” said the contract between the DfT and Boston Consulting Group.

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Elsewhere in his appearance before MPs, Case revealed that the planned job cuts were not originally scheduled to be announced until the next spending review in 2024, but this had been accelerated due to “changing economic circumstances”.

“The civil service expanded significantly, by around 20%, after 2016, first of all for managing Brexit and subsequently for managing the pandemic,” he said. “Brexit now has become largely business as usual. The pandemic is over and there is obviously the external economic pressures on the government. Ministers concluded that we have to get the right size for the civil service for that reality.”

The cabinet secretary said ministers had been clear, however, that they would “not accept a fall in standards of public services” as a result of the cuts.

Case said he is speaking to permanent secretaries several times per week about how these cuts can be made.

Asked if he would lead by example and commit to a 20% reduction in officials in his private office, Case said “the centre of government must lead by example on this”.

“It would be totally wrong for the centre of government to be in the driving seat for demanding reductions elsewhere and not follow through itself,” he added.

Departments were last week expected to submit to produce proposals for reducing their headcount by up to 40%. Each department is responsible for producing its own assessment of how it can help the government to achieve its goal, with the Cabinet Office and Treasury coordinating the work. 

Departments have also been asked to work with the Central Digital and Data Office to assess options for revamping their internal IT and delivery of digital services.

A government spokesperson said: “As the prime minister has made clear, the civil service works hard to implement the government’s agenda and deliver for the public.  Our focus is on having a civil service that has the skills and capabilities to continue delivering outstanding public services, which is exactly why we have changed recruitment rules to bring in the very best talent and are investing in the professional development of our people. 

“It is crucial that all aspects of taxpayer spending demonstrates efficiency and value for money. It was right to grow the civil service to deliver Brexit and deal with the pandemic, but we must now return it to 2016 staffing levels and have asked all government departments to set out how this might be achieved.”


Sam Trendall

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