Whitehall job cuts: Truss to drop Johnson’s timetable in favour of efficiency-based ‘hybrid model’

Reports claim new PM and her cabinet could reinstate Fast Stream and pursue savings through efficiencies and natural churn

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

Liz Truss will tear up Boris Johnson’s three-year timetable to cut 91,000 civil service jobs in favour of reducing the headcount through long-term churn, according to reports.

Government reform is now spearheaded by Nadhim Zahawi, whom the new PM appointed as Cabinet Office minister in her opening reshuffle. He 

According to a report in the Financial Times, the former chancellor has warned colleagues that, although the wipeout of 91,000 jobs could save the government £3.5bn annually, the large-scale redundancies needed to achieve these cutbacks in the originally intended timescale would cost around £6bn-£7bn upfront.

Zahawi has concluded that the Johnson target is a “blunt instrument” that should be reviewed; instead of attempting to rapidly get back to 2016 headcount in just three years, Truss’s government will turn to a “hybrid model” of efficiency savings and job cuts to reduce departments’ spending, the newspaper said.

“Getting back to 2016 levels is still the overall ambition but that will now be done over a different timescale,” a government source told the FT. “That target is no longer set in stone.”

Last week, departments were told to find new “efficiencies” and set out how they will contribute to the government’s flagship agenda of driving growth.

Ministers have previoulsy talked up the use automation and other technological tools as a key enabler of such efficiences, and departments’ plans to enable the required job cuts have also examined how existing and new tech transformation schemes can help them do so.

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The FT also reports that the Fast Stream, paused as part of the plans to slim down the civil service, could return soon, with a government source telling the FT to “watch this space”.

The graduate scheme for future civil service leaders has been a key source of new technological talent for departments, with the digital, data and technology track being one programme’s biggest specialisms – bringing about 100 people into government each year. 

The suspension of the initiative come in light of proposals set out in May by the former PM to cut a fifth of the civil service workforce to bring it back down to 2016 pre-Brexit referendum levels. He said the service, which had grown in recent years to deal with Brexit and the Covid pandemic, had become “swollen”.

Truss’s government is still committed to returning to the 2016 headcount, but is not committed to the 2025 target, according to the FT. Instead, it will take a more gradual approach to reducing the size of the civil service to avoid costly mass redundancies, the newspaper reported.

However, the move may not in fact signal a radical change in direction as this is not the first time the government has suggested churn would spearhead the reduction. 

Following the 91,000 cuts announcement, then-government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said that the easiest way to cut numbers would be to implement a hiring “freeze”, as tens of thousands of civil servants leave their roles annually, including 44,000 last year. But the short timeframe to cut so many roles meant compulsory and voluntary redundancies were also being considered.

Truss has not committed to her predecessor’s 91,000 job-cuts target, despite calling for a “leaner” civil service during this summer’s Conservative Party leadership contest.

Earlier this year, as foreign secretary, Truss reportedly pushed back against a request to eliminate around 900 roles in her department. 

Departments submitted modelling of the impact staffing cuts of 20%, 30% and 40% over the next three years would have on their performance to the Cabinet Office and Treasury earlier this year.

There were around 478,000 officials in the civil service as of March, compared to around 384,00 in June 2016, when the UK voted to leave the EU.

In August, the Treasury was said to have “gone cold” on the planned headcount reduction after seeing what the cost and impact on public services would be following a review by previous Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay. At that time, the cost of redundancies was estimated to be £2bn.


Sam Trendall

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