In three years, Boris Johnson’s plan to reduce the number of civilian employees to 91,000 – about 20% – would leave Whitehall unable to cope with the huge workload caused by Brexit, independent experts and the union have warned the government.
They say such a reduction would make the state too small to handle the additional responsibilities that Whitehall officials have taken on since the UK left the EU, including trade, agriculture, immigration and business control.
TUC figures released this weekend show that planned cuts would mean the ratio of civilian employees to members of the UK population will fall to a record low following former Chancellor George Osborne’s brutal crackdown, when government departments were asked to push back the numbers. Savings up to 40% after the 2010 general election.
TUC figures show that for every 10,000 UK citizens, the number of civil servants dropped from 76 in 2010 to 59 in 2016, the year of the Brexit referendum. Over the past year, the number has risen to 70 per 10,000 UK citizens to cope with the extra workload of Brexit planning and implementation.
However, if the three-year target of reducing 91,000 is achieved, the TUC says that by 2025 the number of civilian workers will drop to a new low of 56 per 10,000 – despite additional demands on the government from Brexit, the epidemic and the war in Ukraine.
Cabinet ministers and permanent secretaries of all government departments have been given until the end of June to model the situation, including a 20%, 30% and 40% reduction in the number of civilian employees working for them. The overall reduction of 91,000 is very unlikely to be evenly distributed, meaning some parts of the government will be asked to do more than 20% and some less.
Difficulties in managing Brexit’s success by reducing the size of the state are highlighted by separate figures from the Institute for Government (IFG) think tank, which says that since 2016, the Home Office has added 8,400 staff, many of them new immigration policy from the EU and Processing is handling visas.
Both Defra (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and BEIS (Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Engineering) have increased their staff to 5,000 since 2016, taking on regulatory and policy roles previously performed by EU officials.
Rice Klein, a senior researcher at IFG, told the Observer: “Ministers should explain why they believe that the pre-Brexit size of the civil service in 2016 is the most effective size for the civil service in 2025, almost a decade later.
“The UK government now has new post-Brexit responsibilities that need to be addressed and cannot be omitted or easily undermined.”
Whitehall’s bones are being cut, said Steven Littlewood, assistant general secretary of the First Division Association, which represents senior civil servants.
“Given the new responsibilities of the post-Brexit government for areas such as borders, customs and agriculture, it is impossible to see how the services it currently provides can be provided with the proposed job losses. The government needs to be honest about which services will be reduced if the number is reduced. ”
Johnson has lined up to lead a review of how the civil service works in the future, according to former cabinet office minister Francis Mudd, who oversaw the hanging deficit in civil service numbers under a coalition government led by David Cameron and Osborne.
There are also warnings that a reduction in the number of officers would exacerbate delays in applying for passports, driving licenses and other government services.
Mark Serotka, general secretary of the largest civil servants’ union, Public and Commercial Services Union, said: Tax search
“We will fight for every job in the civil service. Not just from our members, but from every member of the public who relies on the services they provide. “
Professor Anand Menon, director of the think tank UK in a Changing Europe, said Johnson’s problem was that Brexit was a larger state’s demand “not just for short-term implementation, but for the UK to do all the extra work that Brexit would need”. From formulating and implementing new policies in the fields to performing new regulatory tasks, policing our borders. ”