Size of Canadian public service likely to grow despite 5,000 job cut target | Net zero ‘weaponised in culture wars’, climate watchdog warns: news in brief

By on 02/05/2024 | Updated on 07/05/2024
A picture of a Government of Canada office
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Global Government Forum’s weekly news roundup of public service intelligence

Size of Canadian public service likely to grow despite 5,000 job cut target

The size of the Canadian public service is likely to grow in the years ahead despite plans from ministers to reduce headcount by around 5,000, Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux has said.

As part of plans to reduce government spending by as much as C$15bn (US$11bn), ministers in Canada have set out plans to reduce the federal workforce headcount by 5,000 through workforce attrition.

According to the federal budget published last month, the number of full-time equivalent positions was anticipated to drop to around 363,000 from an estimated population of 368,000 as of the end of March.

However, in comments responding to the figures reported by the Ottawa Citizen, Giroux said that the government would need to hire more than the planned 5,000 posts lost to keep on track with its commitments, such as reducing call centre waiting times for citizens accessing services.

“I personally don’t see how they will be able to reduce the number of employees by value if they also want to do all these other things in the budget,” Giroux said, adding: “I think what we’ll see is an increase in the number of public servants.”

Upcoming webinar: Equipping public servants to succeed, 6 June

The Canadian government is not alone in seeking to reduce the size of its civil service. The UK government has capped the size of the UK civil service as part of an efficiency drive, with chancellor Jeremy Hunt keen to use technology to make government more efficient. The size of the civil service has therefore been capped at around 488,000 – with the aim to eventually reduce its size by 66,000 to pre-pandemic levels. Savings from this reduction in headcount will be allocated to increasing defence spending, Hunt announced last month, as he pledged to increase UK military spending from current levels of around 2% of gross domestic product to 2.5% by 2030.

Read more: AI could automate 84% of repetitive service transactions across government

UK government look to use data to power office transformation

The UK government is examining how to use data to inform its plans to transform government offices for the era of hybrid working.

The Government Property Agency, part of the UK’s Cabinet Office, has set out details of what it calls “one of the country’s biggest and most ambitious workplace renewal programmes”. The agency is leading the implementation of government plans to rationalise the government estate, as well as running the hub scheme that is critical to moving civil servants out of London.

The GPA recently brought together civil service leaders to discuss the plana and, in its report on the session, the agency highlighted the potential for data to help unlock a more efficient government estate.

As well as stressing the need for partnership working, and emphasising the workplace experience in the era of hybrid working, the GPA also highlighted potential for data to be used to create a more efficient government estate.

Technology is key to government transformation, the report said, underpinning the workplace’s transformation, with the GPA rolling out the GovPass system to make it easier for civil servants to work from any office, and access GovWifi when they arrive.

Upcoming webinar: Unlocking insight from data to support decision making, 9 May

This opens up potential insight on how offices are being utilised, and the GPA said that its client departments “were keen to explore the possibility of working with the GPA to leverage this insight for their own planning, as well as to guide future decisions for the estate”.

The GPA said it would continue to discuss, share ideas with and learn from departments on how this – and other elements of reform – could be undertaken.

The UK government is not alone in working to revamp its offices to reflect the move to remote working. The US government’s Government Accountability Office has called on US government agencies to better utilise the space that it has after a report found that Most of the major US federal agencies’ buildings are a quarter full or less.

Read more: Four in five Canadian public servants working remotely in part or in full, survey finds

UK schools inspector eyes AI’s potential to foster ‘better decisions’ 

The UK’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) has said in a statement on the government’s website that it will explore how AI can help it make “better decisions” when inspecting and regulating schools. 

Citing its 2022-27 strategy published on 26 April, the non-ministerial department said that AI would support its goals to “put children and learners first while remaining independent, accountable, transparent and evidence-led”. Specific areas in which it said AI could assist with this were in assessing risk, increasing efficiency through automation, and making better use of data.

Read more: GGF AI Monitor: Protecting elections from deepfakes, France to use AI to help simplify public services, and more 

Ofsted said its adoption of AI would come with a raft of precautionary measures to be followed, both by itself and by providers of technologies. These included making sure AI solutions were “secure and safe for users and that they protect users’ data”, ensuring that all uses of AI were transparent and ethically appropriate, and that all came with “clear guidance and rules for [providers], developers and users of AI… about their responsibilities”.

Finally, the office said that staff would also be “empowered to correct and overrule AI suggestions”. “We will never allow AI to impede our ability to inspect fairly and impartially,” it concluded. 

“It is vital that AI does not undermine either our inspectors’ judgements or our ability to respond flexibly and empathetically to the concerns of the public or providers.”  

Upcoming webinar: How government can make the most of analytics and AI, 10 October

Net zero has been weaponised in culture wars, former head of UK climate watchdog says

The ex-head of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, Chris Stark, said that the term ‘net zero’ has become weaponised in a culture war about climate action, and is now “unhelpful”.

Speaking to the Guardian in an interview a week before his departure on 26 April, Stark warned that the term had become more closely associated with campaigns against it than with supporters of the concept. He added that though the original intention behind the slogan was to spur the UK to compete with other advancing green economies, the meaning had since drifted.

“It’s the culture warriors who have really taken against it,” said Stark. He said that where the slogan had become a “holding pen for a whole host of cultural issues”, it would be better off used solely “as a scientific target”.

Upcoming webinar: An equitable path to net zero: economic transformations and just transitions, 27 June

“A small group of politicians or political voices has moved in to say that net zero is something that you can’t afford, net zero is something that you should be afraid of,” he added. 

“It’s very strange that some see heat pumps as an enemy of the people.”  

In 2023, the UK’s prime minister Rishi Sunak backed away from a policy that would have seen an acceleration towards a changeover to electric vehicles, while the opposition Labour Party watered down a pledge to put £28bn (US$35bn) a year into a green economy. 

Stark stressed however that while the politicisation of concepts had the potential to influence policy, they did not make a difference to the country’s need to “reduce emissions”. 

“We are talking about cleaning up the economy and making it more productive – you can call that anything you like.” 

Read more: Biden’s EPA awards $20bn for climate projects, court rules national climate action is a human rights issue, and more

What’s on Global Government Forum this week

Evidence-based action: the key tools governments can use to tackle the gender pay gap

Ireland hosts public sector pioneers in Dublin for third Fintech Lab

Protecting elections from deepfakes, France to use AI to help simplify public services, and more

Four projects shortlisted for implementation in 2024 Civil Service Data Challenge

Kazakhstan’s digital government moment in the sun

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About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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