Government will try to protect digital roles in civil service job cuts, according to Whitehall chief

Civil service chief operating officer cites technology and commercial professions as among those where more skills are needed

Credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

Government will strive to protect digital roles even as there are major reductions in the headcount of the civil service in the coming months.

While ministers’ previous target of cutting 91,000 posts may have been ditched, there are still likely to be significant job losses as departments face tough cost-cutting and efficiency targets. 

Giving evidence last week to parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm was asked by MPs what measures are being put in place to ensure that, as the civil service shrinks, its capability is maintained.

He told MPs the government would try to protect roles in certain key areas where skills remain in high demand – with the digital, data and technology profession chief among them. Project delivery and commercial posts were also cited as disciplines where more expertise is needed.

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“When we’ve been doing benchmarking exercises with the highest-performing organisations in the wider economy we find that actually roles like project delivery, commercial and digital we need more of rather than fewer,” he said. “So, I think it’s very important as we go through the efficiency and savings review that was announced in the autumn statement, that we are careful to make sure that we don’t over-squeeze in those areas which are so important to future efficiency and performance.”

Chisholm also confirmed that outcome delivery plans, which were cancelled this year due to disruption from the job cuts plan, two changes of prime minister and the Autumn Statement, would be readied by departments in time for the start of 2023-24. The new system of annual plans will require departments to make commitments to digital transformation and use various metrics to report on their progress.

Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden – who was giving evidence alongside Chisholm – said that the plan the drive to achieve efficiencies across Whitehall “will be driven by outcomes”, rather than reduction targets. But he added that “budget pressures are going to force better ways of working and certainly reduction in headcount as well”.

Dowden was also asked whether ministers would lead by example in making job cuts by reducing the sizes of private offices and the number of special advisers.

Dowden replied: “Nothing is off the table. We couldn’t expect ministers to be exempt. That has already been the case across ministerial offices”.

There are currently more special advisers than at any time in the past 12 years, according to Institute for Government figures from July 2022.


Sam Trendall

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