The British government intends to cut up to 91,000 civil service jobs—almost a fifth of the current total—within three years, the UK’s top civil servant has said.
In a letter to civil servants, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said the government aims to return to 2016 staffing levels, as the number of civil servants has grown “substantially” since then.
He wrote: “We must consider how we can streamline our workforce and equip ourselves with the skills we need to be an even more effective, lean, and innovative service that continues to deliver for the people we serve.”
Case said Prime Minister Boris Johnson believes “this matters all the more at a time when the government is focused on controlling expenditure and delivering the best possible value for taxpayers in challenging circumstances.”
Johnson told the Daily Mail: “We have got to cut the cost of government to reduce the cost of living.”
He said the civil service had become “swollen” during the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic.
And he suggested the money saved could allow the government to cut taxes. “Every pound the government pre-empts from the taxpayer is money they can spend on their own priorities, on their own lives,” he said.
Unions have reacted with fury. The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) said it will hold an emergency meeting of its executive committee next week to discuss its response.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told the PA news agency that any job cuts would affect anyone relying on public services.
“This is not about efficiency. This is about the prime minister trying to create a smokescreen to detract from his utter shambles of a government,” he said.
The main opposition Labour Party also criticised the proposed cuts.
A Labour spokesman said: “Instead of implementing an emergency budget, they have chosen to let down working people once again through pointless rhetoric and lack of action.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg, minister for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency, defended the planned cuts on Friday.
He told Sky News: “I know it sounds eye-catching but it’s just getting back to the civil service we had in 2016. Since then, we’ve had to take on people for specific tasks—dealing with the aftermath of Brexit and dealing with COVID. So there’s been a reason for that increase, but we’re now trying to get back to normal.”
A government spokeswoman said, “The public rightly expect their government to lead by example and run as efficiently as possible” as the nation faces rising costs.
PA Media contributed to this report.