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Sat, 31 October 2020

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Axe government departments to save taxpayer billions, say Treasury insiders

Axe government departments to save taxpayer billions, say Treasury insiders
3 min read

Government departments should be axed or merged in order to save the taxpayer billions of pounds, according to Treasury insiders.

Senior figures believe the 25 Whitehall departments could easily be reduced without affecting government output.

They point out that in contrast, the government of the USA - which has a population five times the size of the UK - manages to carry out its functions with just 15 departments.

Under radical proposals being considered by top Treasury officials, the Departments for International Development, Exiting the EU and International Trade could be intergrated into the Foreign Office.

Meanwhile, the Departments for Transport, Housing, Communities and Local Government, and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy could become a single ministry with responsibility for major infrastructure projects.

A senior Treasury source said: "The current Whitehall set-up is crazy – we have more government departments than the United States. Every time you create a new department it comes asking for more money – we need to start rolling that back.

"Why do we need a massive foreign aid department when we have the Foreign Office? Why have we got a load of different departments taking a piecemeal look at our infrastructure needs?

"If you cut the size of the machine you can release money for the front line – you could save billions rather than raising taxes."

But any move to slash the number of Whitehall departments would inevitably run into resistance from the civil service unions as a huge number of jobs are likely to be put at risk.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said: "If there is a merger of government departments we would expect our members to be fully consulted. PCS will oppose any attempt to cut jobs or lower terms and conditions if there are any mergers.

"Ministers should be putting their energies into giving civil servants and those in related areas a pay rise and investing properly in government departments."

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union for senior officials, told PoliticsHome: "The idea that there are significant sums to be saved simply by merging departments is kindergarten economics.

"Unless government changes what it does, or does less - both of which require significant policy development - changing the nameplate on the front door of a department is no panacea  to delivering efficiencies. Indeed, every machinery of government change comes with the inevitable costs of merging IT systems and back office functions and creates months of distraction at a time when we need the civil service focused on the job in hand like never before.

"Instead of dreaming up easy headlines that the grass is greener in the USA or Singapore, ministers should be focusing on ensuring that the civil service is provided with the resources and skills it needs to face the biggest challenge it’s been given since the Second World War."