Civil service job cuts announcement: what next?

Garry Graham · 18 May 2022

Whitehall and Downing Street street sign

It’s been a busy week since the government’s announcement that they plan to slash 91,000 civil service jobs over three years.

As soon as we became aware of the announcement, leaked late on Thursday night to the Daily Mail, Prospect contacted the Cabinet Office seeking an urgent meeting. We wrote to the prime minister on Friday and have subsequently written to the minister for the cabinet office alongside the FDA. PCS decided to write separately.

What did the Cabinet Office have to say?

This week, we met with senior officials in the Cabinet Office. Given the gravity of the announcement Prospect insisted that the meeting be in person for those able to attend. The meeting was attended by our general secretary Mike Clancy (General Secretary Prospect), myself and Dave Penman from the FDA. PCS, POA and GMB attended by remote dial in.

At the meeting Prospect and other unions conveyed our disgust on behalf of members at how the announcement was made. Officials acknowledged the upset and anxiety caused to staff. They also recognised the difficult position employers were put in – employers had no forewarning of the announcement. We will forcibly be raising this point with the minister when we meet.

Prospect and other unions also challenged the logic behind the thinking that the civil service could be arbitrarily reduced to its 2016 staffing levels – its lowest since the Second World War – in the context of dealing with the consequences of Brexit, the pandemic, government policy on the environment, climate change, biodiversity, threats to national and international security, “levelling up”, “building back better” and the multitude of other challenges the government faces.

Officials were unable to set out how the 91,000 figure had been arrived at by ministers. It is clear to us that this is a figure plucked from the air and driven by dogma as opposed to any clear-sighted analysis.

Officials accepted that the civil service could not continue to deliver all it delivers now were such a head count reduction introduced. Officials were not able to articulate what government should stop doing and advised it would be for departments and departmental ministers to prioritise commitments.

Officials also accepted that job losses of this magnitude cannot be achieved by “natural wastage” alone and there would be a need to use voluntary exit or voluntary redundancy schemes. We pressed the Cabinet Office on this matter and they confirmed any VE or potential redundancy exercise “will be on the 2010 terms”. We will hold them to this undertaking – by industrial action if needed. We will not negotiate adverse changes to the 2010 redundancy terms if contemplated by Ministers.

Moving forward

Prospect is determined to oppose these arbitrary and damaging cuts. It demonstrates a disdain for our members and what they do which is help defend, protect, support and enhance the lives of people in our country and beyond. We are proud of you, even if this government is not. And we will champion your interests, which this government certainly will not.

We will keep you updated. The Cabinet Office has agreed that union engagement at both national and employer level is vital at what will be a deeply worrying time for staff and we will hold them to that.

Let’s get organised

In the meantime, branches should be holding meetings for members and potential members. Please ask your rep about what they have planned.

There has never been a more important time to be a Prospect member and fight for a civil service – serving our society – that we can all be proud of. If you have a colleague who is not a Prospect member, please encourage them to join Prospect. The more members we have, the more effective we can be in opposing these damaging cuts and highlighting the valuable contribution our members make.

Garry Graham is deputy general secretary of Prospect

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