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Angry Civil Servants Say They Were Blindsided By Plans To Suspend Graduate Scheme

Angry Civil Servants Say They Were Blindsided By Plans To Suspend Graduate Scheme
4 min read

Boris Johnson's plan to significantly downsize the civil service, spearheaded by minister Jacob Rees Mogg, has caused consternation and confusion in Whitehall, a number of officials have told PoliticsHome.

The Prime Minister wants to cut the civil service workforce by a fifth, which comes to 91,000 jobs, in a bid to save taxpayer money amid the cost-of-living crisis, The Daily Mail reported last week.

On top of that Rees Mogg, the Brexit opportunities minister who is tasked with making the government more efficient, last week told Cabinet that he wanted to suspend the graduate scheme which provides fast-stream civil service training to individuals fresh out of university, The Spectator reported. The scheme is regularly used by government departments to recruit staff.

A government source confirmed that the graduate fast-stream scheme would be included in the government's Whitehall hiring freeze from the 2023-2024 intake onwards.

The Spectator report said that when Rees Mogg announced his ambition to other Cabinet ministers last week, it received such a frosty reaction that Johnson was forced to intervene.

One Cabinet minister told The Spectator: "What happened to securing the brightest and best?"

Two Whitehall sources today told PoliticsHome that policy officials across numerous departments were blindsided by the Rees Mogg plan to suspend the graduate scheme, and that it hadn't been communicated to them before it was leaked to the press.

Another source said it had caused disquiet among officials in the private offices of government ministers. 

One official said: "The mood is pretty low about the civil service right now, due mainly to pay and the potential job losses. I'd say it's lower than we were being described as the enemy of the people or whatever it was during Brexit".

Suzannah Brecknell, co-editor of Civil Service World, a sister publication of PoliticsHome, said the story about the Prime Minister's plan to slash civil service numbers by 20% had caused a "firestorm" in Whitehall. 

Speaking on this week's edition of PoliticsHome's podcast The Rundown, which will be released on Friday, she said: "The next day you saw a number of communications from permanent secretaries, top officials and departments to their staff saying 'we understand this is surprising for you, we understand it's unsettling, we will give you details as soon as possible'.

"The best way to describe it was damage limitation in that they didn't really know what was coming and they had to deal with this firestorm with staff being told you're at risk of losing your job."

Also speaking on the podcast, Labour's Shadow Employment Rights Minister Justin Madders argued the government's treatment of Whitehall staff was similar to P&O Ferries' treatment of its workers.

In March, P&O Ferries received a furious widespread backlash, including from the government, after it made 800 of its staff redundant with immediate effect in order to replace them with cheaper agency staff.

"It reminds me a little bit of how P&O acted with their workers," Madders said.

"Of course, the government were very quick to condemn that".

"They should actually start listening to their own advice a bit more and treat the people who do incredibly difficult jobs with a little bit more respect".

A senior government source rejected Madders' P&O Ferries comparison, however, telling PoliticsHome that "a hiring freeze policy is not the same as no-notice sackings".

The shadow minister argued that the 91,000 figure briefed to The Mail had been "plucked out of thin air" and designed to generate newspaper headlines, rather than a "strategic approach to the demands of government".

A government spokesperson said: "We are incredibly grateful to the civil service for the outstanding job they do in delivering for the public.

"When people across the country are facing huge living costs, the public rightly expect their government to lead by example and to run as efficiently as possible. That’s why the PM has tasked the Cabinet to report back with a plan for returning the civil service to its 2016 levels over the next three years.

"Any speculation on where and how those reductions will be made is premature and we will set out our plans in due course".

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