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Hunt: We’ll axe ‘woke Whitehall’ jobs to cut size of the civil service


The Chancellor announced a freeze on civil service expansion to help trim the size of the state.

Mr Hunt said the move could ­ save £1billion a year and indicated that improving public-sector productivity may allow him to reduce the tax burden.

Around 10,000 equality and diversity jobs are expected to go under the new plans.

He pledged to cap the Whitehall headcount at its current level of around 490,000 staff and set out an ambition to reduce the number of civil servants to pre-Covid levels.

The civil service workforce has 105,000 more full-time-equivalent staff than in 2016 and grew further to cope with the fallout from ­the pandemic.

But the Treasury stressed that ­the action did not amount to a recruitment freeze.

In his address to the Tory conference in Manchester, the Chancellor said: “We have the best civil servants in the world and they saved many lives in the pandemic by working night and day.

“But even after that pandemic, we still have 66,000 more civil servants than before. New policies should not always mean new people.

“So, today I’m freezing the expansion of the civil service and putting in place a plan to reduce its numbers to pre-pandemic levels. This will save £1billion next year.”

Mr Hunt vowed not to lift the freeze on Whitehall expansion until the development of a “proper plan not just for the civil service but ­ for all public sector productivity improvements”.

In June 2016, when the EU referendum took place, there were 384,000 civil servants – the smallest number since the Second World War.

But the number of Whitehall staff has since grown as the civil service expanded to deal with Brexit and then to respond to the Covid pandemic.

John O’Connell, chief executive ­of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Freezing Whitehall expansion is a step in the right direction.

“The mandarin jobs boom is one of the key drivers of the cost of government crisis that is hammering taxpayers. With the size of the civil service frozen, the Chancellor should now look to find savings by winding down unnecessary roles.”

The Prospect union said Mr Hunt’s announcement on Whitehall amounted to a U-turn after the Prime Minister had previously said he did not believe in “top-down ­targets for civil service headcount reductions”.

Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, warned: “This latest U-turn shreds any remaining doubts about the Prime Minister’s lack of personal commitment to civil servants and will further undermine vital public services which are already struggling.

“We now have government ministers rushing out policies at Tory Conference in a desperate attempt to shore up their own support from the hard-right of their party.”

Under the plans, all government departments will have to provide comprehensive productivity plans that demonstrate a long-term plan to get back to pre-2019 staff numbers.

They will need to demonstrate how each department will utilise modern technology to drive efficiencies and deliver better services for the public at lower costs.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union which represents senior civil servants, said Mr Hunt’s announcement was “intellectually bereft”.

“Just like with the earlier Rees-Mogg announcement that the civil service would return to pre-Brexit staffing levels, picking a point in time in the past and deciding ­that ­is the right number of staff to deal with the public service challenges of the future is intellectually bereft,” he said.”

The plan, he said, was “fantasy politics of the worst kind”, adding: “As with Johnson’s government, announcements that have a profound impact on hundreds of thousands of committed public servants are used as party political stunts, with little regard for the organisation that ministers, not least the Prime Minister, are supposed to lead.”

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