Cutting the civil service

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Alex Thomas

November 4, 2022

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at how best to slim down and save money in the civil service.

This paper sets out the six steps government can take which would cut the civil service and save money, while not damaging skills and capability. It welcomes Rishi Sunak’s decision to drop the Johnson government’s 91,000 civil service job cut target and plans to suspend the graduate fast stream. It says Oliver Dowden, the new chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Jeremy Quin, the paymaster general and minister for the Cabinet Office, should draw a line under Jacob Rees-Mogg’s eye-catching but ultimately trivial interventions on civil service cuts and working from home and instead reset relationships and prioritise calm competence. The civil service has grown by 25% since 2016, and by 10% between 2020 and 2021 alone, with the number of civil servants working on policy nearly doubling in the last six years, from 16,570 to 32,020. The Cabinet Office has almost doubled in size, growing by 6,000 staff; the Department for Education has doubled, growing by 5,300 in the same time. On best estimates, around half of the growth of the civil service relates to new, permanent post-Brexit functions, but the rest was in response to Covid and Brexit transition. This means there are savings to be made. The paper’s recommendations include: Targeting ‘pounds not people’ and resisting a media-friendly headline figure: a headcount target means that talented, cheap, younger and mobile staff leave. Having a long-term plan and working out the size and shape of workforce needed over the next five to 10 years, rather than repeating the boom and bust’ in recruitment and retrenchment. Motivating and reassuring the staff who are staying, including by offering fair salaries, terms and conditions. Being prepared to invest and save, in particular protecting digital investment to improve service provision and release genuine efficiency savings. Differentiating clearly and honestly between making efficiencies and stopping activity.