Boris Johnson’s plans to slash the number of civil servants by 20 per cent within three years will leave Whitehall unable to handle the huge extra Brexit workload, experts and unions have warned.
The government is seeking to cut 91,000 civil service jobs, sparking fears that the state would be left too small to cope with the added responsibilities taken on by officials in Whitehall since Britain quit the EU.
Figures released by the TUC this weekend revealed that the planned cuts would mean the ratio of civil servants to members of the UK population would tumble below the low recorded during George Osborne’s austerity drive.
Cuts, cuts, cuts
The data, published in The Observer, show that for every 10,000 UK citizens, the number of civil servants fell from 76 in 2010 to 59 in 2016 – the year of the referendum. By last year, partly due to the extra demand sparked by Brexit, the numbers had risen again to 70 for every 10,000 Brits.
But if the three-year target to cut 91,000 jobs is met the number of civil servants would drop to a new low of just 56 per 10,000 by 2025, the TUC said.
According to the Institute for Government (IfG) think-tank, the Home Office has added 8,400 staff since 2016 – many of whom are managing new immigration policies and red tape created by Brexit.
Both the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have seen their staffing levels increase by 5,000 since 2016, as UK officials take on roles previously performed by EU workers.
Rhys Clyne, a senior researcher at the IfG, told the Observer: “Ministers should explain why they believe the pre-Brexit size of the civil service in 2016 is the most efficient size for the civil service nearly a decade later in 2025.
“The UK government now has new post-Brexit responsibilities that will need to be resourced and cannot be dropped or easily unwound.”
Steven Littlewood, assistant general secretary of the First Division Association, which represents top civil servants, warned Whitehall was being subjected to ruthless cuts.
“Given the new responsibilities the government has post-Brexit for areas like borders, customs and agriculture, it is impossible to see how it can provide the services it currently is with the proposed job losses,” he told the newspaper.
“The government needs to be honest about what services it would cut if it reduces numbers.”