UK Cabinet Office to shed 25% of staff as part of ‘war on Whitehall waste’

By on 22/08/2022 | Updated on 22/08/2022
Rees-Mogg has spoken of "trimming the bureaucratic bloat of Whitehall". Photo by Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street via Flickr

The Cabinet Office is to lose a quarter of its headcount over the next three years, according to UK minister for government efficiency, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Describing the move as “an opportunity for significant reform as well as savings” in a piece published by The Telegraph, Rees-Mogg said the Cabinet Office would lead “by example” in helping to save taxpayers’ money ahead of the “coming storm of inflation”.

As of May this year, the Cabinet Office employed 9,801 civil servants in full-time equivalent roles, and around 10,008 civil servants in total.

The news follows the announcement in May by outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson, that 91,000 civil service jobs would be axed by 2025 in a bid to return the workforce to 2016 levels. This reduction, amounting to a fifth of the total headcount, would “cut the cost of government and reduce the cost of living”, he said.

Read more: Exclusive: experts on the impact of 91,000 job cuts in the UK civil service

In his column, Rees-Mogg wrote that the cuts would save “over £3bn [US$2.5bn] and restore our bureaucracy to a sensible size now the pandemic has passed”. However, a Whitehall review carried out by Steve Barclay, the health secretary and Johnson’s former chief of staff, found that a jobs cull of such scale would require deep cuts to public services and cost at least £1bn (US$1.2bn) in redundancy payments.

At a Global Government Forum webinar in June, Philip Rycroft, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union, said that the planned reductions amounted to “using the civil service as a whipping boy” in light of political pressures faced by the government.

Return to office ruckus

Rees-Mogg also wrote in his column that the “optimisation of the government estate” would save £6.5bn (US$7.6bn) through the consolidation of government property, taking a more commercial approach to leasing and running buildings more efficiently. “As figures show more civil servants returning to the office full time, taxpayers will want to see their money being spent on a civil service hard at work in the office,” he said.

Read more: UK minister hints work-from-home civil servants could face job cuts

The government’s push to get civil servants to return to offices post-pandemic has been resisted by officials keen to retain a better work-life balance and blasted by unions who have described ministers’ preference for presenteeism as out of touch.

Earlier this month, Rees-Mogg – who is orchestrating the return-to-the-office drive – ordered a review of work arrangements in Whitehall that allow civil servants to work irregular ‘flexitime’ hours. He said the arrangement led to a “culture of wastefulness”.

Read more: ‘Maybe I was at a Downing Street party’: GGF readers respond to Rees-Mogg’s back-to-the-office note

In response, Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, said ministers wishing to attract and retain the best talent needed to understand that flexible working represented “one of the few advantages” in a competitive labour market.  

Support for tax cut Truss

Rees-Mogg has come out in support of Liz Truss, who is campaigning to succeed Johnson as prime minister alongside former chancellor Rishi Sunak. Truss, who has said she would cut taxes, is the favourite to win the leadership race. The new PM will be announced on 5 September.

“Cutting taxes must go hand in hand with trimming the bureaucratic bloat of Whitehall, only that way will we bring inflation down and restore the economy to growth,” Rees-Mogg wrote in The Telegraph.

He also said the UK’s departure from the European Union “necessitates a re-thinking of the British state” which meant “going beyond ministers looking for fiscal trims and haircuts and considering whether the state should deliver certain functions at all”. Rees-Mogg is also the minister for Brexit opportunities.

Read more: UK PM hopeful branded ‘abhorrent’ for accusing civil servants of antisemitism

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

One Comment

  1. Lee Jones says:

    “Cutting taxes must go hand in hand with trimming the bureaucratic bloat of Whitehall, only that way will we bring inflation down and restore the economy to growth,” ….. Really ??????????

    What evidence can Rees-Mogg offer for any of the absurd claims in his piece to the Daily Toryogrpah? How can he conflate the size of the public sector with the hyperinflation we see, which is clearly the result of covid mis-management, war in Ukraine and a general lack of regulation or accountability in defence & covid purchasing, energy policy etc., etc., etc. And why is inflation and the forecasts much lower in the EU than in the now-freed UK ….. another success for Brexit? He’s clearly failing to deliver one of his government roles if he doesn’t recommend that we return to the EU at the earliest possible opportunity to mitigate our inflationary crisis, as clearly they are doing better than we are.

    I am once again staggered by the employment model which treats workers in the civil service with utter contempt, blaming them for all of the country’s problems, while non-specialists who are elected every 5 years are put in charge of departments for which they have *no skills or qualifications*. For example: a succession of science ministers with no tangible skills in science.

    Would a private company treat its staff in such a way? No. Would a private company place someone with no track record or indeed sector knowledge in such a senior role, responsible for, say, The Environment or Transportation? No, it would not.

    Reducing the size of the civil service might be remotely attractive if the country was in a good state, and if it wasn’t clearly another attempt by this government to further politicise what had previously been an apolitical body, tasked with delivering essential public services and regulation in a non-partisan way.

    Please forgive me for being cynical, but based on recent history, I predict that this will eventually reveal itself in its true forms, being a cull of anyone who does not support this government. Furthermore, it will be done ‘on the cheap’ if they can shoehorn in a further attack on civil service redundancy terms before handing out the P45s.

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