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Plans to axe 91,000 UK civil servants would ‘cut public services’

The government’s plans to lay off up to 91,000 civil servants in three years will require significant cuts in public services and cost at least £1 billion in severance payments, according to a Whitehall assessment.

Boris Johnson unveiled plans for a nearly 20 percent workforce reduction in May, and in June said he could “prune” the civil service to 2016 levels “without harming” frontline services

However, government insiders said a review by Steve Barclay, his former chief of staff, had found otherwise.

They added that the Barclay review had led the Treasury to “go cold” over Johnson’s plans following the rise of full upfront costs and impact on public services.

But Secretary of State Liz Truss, the frontrunner to replace Johnson as Tory leader and prime minister in September, is backing proposals to cut government costs. She has vowed to wage “a war on Whitehall’s garbage”.

A Whitehall insider who has worked on plans to lay off 91,000 officials said it had become apparent that Johnson had made his announcement — which was greeted with enthusiasm by the Conservative Party’s right — without fully considering the implications. .

“You can only deliver 91,000 savings through actual cutbacks to major frontline services,” the insider added. “There’s no way you can achieve that number through efficiency savings or headquarter staff reductions.”

A government insider said the proposals to lay off 91,000 officials would involve “serious cuts” in staff at HM Revenue and Customs, Border Force and prisons. “And you couldn’t protect jobs outside of London,” the insider added.

While the estimates were not yet final, another Whitehall insider said a £2bn figure had been discussed as a work assumption for the cost of mandatory severance payments.

Truss’ campaign team last week approved the government’s plan to lay off 91,000 civil servants – after being forced to reverse proposals to introduce regional public sector pay scales to save an estimated £8.8 billion a year. to spare.

Brandon Lewis, the former Northern Ireland secretary who backs Truss to become the next Tory leader, told the BBC that the discarded regional payboard policy was part of a “wider package around waste handling in Whitehall”.

Citing Johnson’s goal to cut 91,000 civil servants, which would bring the civil service back to the all-time low in 2016, following six years of cuts under then-Prime Minister David Cameron, Lewis said: “We need to get back to that level.” The proposed cuts aim to save £3.5bn a year.

The government currently employs 475,000 civil servants, compared to a low of 384,000 in 2016. The largest growth in civil servants has occurred in the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Work and Pensions.

Demands on Whitehall have increased in recent years, partly because of the coronavirus pandemic, but also because of government policies such as hiring 20,000 police officers.

The UK’s departure from the EU has required the expansion of the Department of International Trade to negotiate trade deals, while the UK’s post-Brexit immigration regime has increased demands on immigration and border force personnel.

The Cabinet Office said: “As people across the country face huge living costs, the public rightly expects their government to lead by example and be run as efficiently as possible.”

It added that it was too early to speculate on how the staff reduction would be implemented, but that a range of options included not filling vacancies if civil servants move to the private sector or retire. Consultations with the trade unions continued, the cabinet said.

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