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Tuesday 17 May 2022

Cutting 91,000 jobs is not a serious plan to reform the civil service

By Dave Penman
Graham Martin

The news on Friday 13 May that the government plans to cut 91,000 civil service jobs will have left civil servants up and down the country feeling shocked, concerned and rightfully angry.

The government announcing that it plans to cut 1 in 5 jobs via a headline in the Daily Mail is more akin to the practices of P&O Ferries than it should be a modern public service organisation. Quite frankly, civil servants deserve to be treated with more respect from the Prime Minister, who is also the Minister for the Civil Service.

We have sought urgent clarification from the Cabinet Office and FDA representatives are meeting with them this week.

The plans are completely bereft of detail for how this will be implemented. The reported £3.5 billion in savings seems to be a figure plucked from thin air and the government has offered no explanation for what departments will be affected nor what the timeline will be.

This does not seem like a serious plan to reform the civil service. Instead, it comes across as another attempt to create a culture war and throw some red meat to certain sections of the press to get a cheap headline.

The arguments put forward by the Minister for Government Efficiency that civil service numbers need to fall because the requirements of Brexit and the pandemic are “now receding” is nonsensical. The UK Civil Service now has significant additional responsibilities because of Brexit and that there are still huge pressures and backlogs as a result of the pandemic that still need to be tackled.

In 2016 the civil service was at its smallest since the Second World War, and the challenges of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic showed that there was absolutely no spare resource, which is why more civil servants were hired. Suggesting 2016 was the perfect moment in time for civil service numbers just doesn’t relate to the challenges that the civil service faces in 2022 and beyond.

The FDA has been publicly criticising the government’s approach at every opportunity, be that on Radio 4, Sky News, LBC, GB News, BBC News, ITV or Channel 4.

We will continue to do so and work to hold the government to account for its approach publicly in the press as well as internally in our discussions with the Cabinet Office and at a departmental level. I wish I could offer more insight but we know very little detail beyond what has been reported in the press. Members will have seen in messages from their own departments that little additional information is available at this time, and I’m not sure the government has even thought through the detail beyond the headline figures briefed to the press.

As I said  at our recent Annual Delegate Conference, I’m proud of our civil service and the work FDA members do. The way they have risen to the unprecedented challenges of the last few years, delivering high quality public services and implementing the government’s agenda, even in the face of these kinds of unwarranted attacks, is truly remarkable.

I will be in contact with members as soon as we have more answers to give. If you are not yet a member, you can join online and we will keep you updated on everything the FDA is doing is doing to fight on your behalf.

Dave Penman is the General Secretary of the FDA
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FDA General Secretary Dave Penman described the Ministerial Code as "the only mechanism a civil servant can use to raise a complaint of misconduct, bullying or sexual harassment against a minister".
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