The Prime Minister is understood to have told his Cabinet on Thursday (12 May) that the service should be cut by a fifth, reducing the size of the 475,000-strong workforce to 2016 levels.
What is a civil servant?
The Civil Service is a collective term for a sector of government that provides services directly to people all over the country, and is mainly composed of career civil servants who are hired on professional merit, rather than appointed or elected.
A civil servant, also known as a public servant, is someone who is employed in the public sector by a government department or agency, with services including:
- paying benefits and pensions
- running employment services
- running prisons
- issuing driving licences
Staff also work on policy development and implementation, including analysts, project managers, lawyers and economists.
Civil servants are employed by the “Crown” and work for central and state governments. They are politically impartial and independent of government, with most working in central government departments, agencies, and non-departmental government bodies (NDPBs).
The Civil Service does not include government ministers (who are politically appointed), members of the British Armed Forces, the police, officers of local government or NDPBs of the Houses of Parliament, employees of the National Health Service (NHS), or staff of the Royal Household.
The service is coordinated and managed by the Prime Minister, in his role as Minister for the Civil Service, and the most senior civil servant in a department is a permanent secretary.
It is made up of 25 professions, ranging from communicators and engineers, to procurement managers and lawyers.
Sources familiar with Mr Johnson’s Cabinet conversation have said he told ministers to return the Civil Service to its 2016 levels in the coming years. The numbr of civil servants is said to have grown since 2016 to 475,000 full-time equivalent jobs.
Why does the PM want to cut civil servant jobs?
The job cuts are intended to help ease the current cost-of-living crisis gripping the country, with the billions saved expected to be used for tax cuts.
The PM told the Daily Mail: “We have got to cut the cost of Government to reduce the cost of living.
“Every pound the government pre-empts from the taxpayer is money they can spend on their own priorities, on their own lives.”
Sources did not deny that the sweeping cut to public jobs could be used for future tax cuts.
Mr Johnson wants a recruitment freeze across Whitehall to start soon, with the abolition of any vacancies unless they are signed off by ministers.
Ministers are expected to report back within a month with plans for achieving the cuts from their departments.
The government said that details of the plan would be set out in due course, and it is expected to save around £3.5 billion per year.
What’s been said about the plans?
The FDA civil servants union has warned that the “ill thought out” proposal would not lead to a more cost-effective government and could have impacts on passport processing, borders and health.
FDA general secretary Dave Penman said the expansion of Whitehall since 2016 was necessary to “deal with the consequences of two unprecedented events – Brexit and the Covid pandemic”.
He said: “To govern is to choose and ultimately this government can decide to cut the civil service back to 2016 levels, but it will also then have to choose what the reduced civil service will no longer have the capacity to do. Will they affect passports, borders or health?
“Without an accompanying strategy, these cuts appear more like a continuation of the government’s civil service culture wars, or even worse, ill-thought out, rushed job slashes that won’t lead to a more cost-effective government.”
Labour also hit out at the plans, criticising the government for choosing to “let down working people once again through pointless rhetoric and lack of action”, instead of working on implementing an emergency budget.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he was “pragmatic” about possibly imposing a windfall tax on the soaring profits of oil and gas giants as customers’ bills rise.
In a BBC interview, he said: “What I want to see is significant investment back into the UK economy to support jobs, to support energy security, and I want to see that investment soon. If that doesn’t happen, then no options are off the table.”