Government must stop using the civil service as a political punching bag

3 October 2023

Prospect General Secretary Mike Clancy has written to Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt demanding a rethink on his announcement of cuts to Civil Service numbers.

General view of Whitehall

Prospect is asking for an urgent meeting with the Chancellor and for the government to stop using the Civil Service as a means to generate cheap headlines. This follows Hunt’s speech to Conservative Party Conference where he announced that he wanted to cut Civil Service numbers back to pre-pandemic levels.

The letter says:

I am writing to protest in the strongest possible terms the announcements made yesterday at the Conservative Party Conference of an immediate cap on Civil Service recruitment and a central target to reduce staffing numbers – as part of the coming spending round – by 66,000, which we calculate to be around 15% of the workforce.

The letter goes on to show how the government has chopped and changed on this issue, creating huge uncertainty for civil servants.

The Prime Minister wrote to all civil servants in November 2022 distancing himself from Jacob Rees-Mogg’s proposals to reduce headcount stating: “I do not believe that top-down targets for Civil Service headcount reductions are the right way to do that”. This message was reinforced by assurances given by the Minister for the Cabinet Office the Rt Hon Jeremy Quin MP, who wrote to Prospect in December 2022 stating: “There are no longer any specific headcount reduction targets for the Civil Service.”

It then points out that areas of the Civil Service are already at breaking point and cannot stand to lose further headcount:

No other “world class” organisation would treat their staff in this way. We know the Civil Service is struggling to recruit and retain the skilled and specialist staff it needs in many areas. Continuing pay austerity and concerns about job security will only exacerbate this issue.

Prospect General Secretary Mike Clancy said:

“Civil servants are sick of being used as a political football. These are people who have dedicated their lives to public service but have had to tolerate more than a decade of pay cuts and constant attacks from ministers.

“We were given assurances by Sunak and his minister that the politically motivated attacks would come to an end, but they have decided to revive them to score cheap points.

“It is a sign of just how desperate the government is that it is trying to pass the blame onto civil servants for ministers’ own failings.”

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