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Tens of thousands of the United Kingdom’s civil servants are set to lose their jobs under new cost-cutting measures planned by the government, according to senior minister Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Rees-Mogg did not deny media reports that 91,000 Whitehall jobs were to go when asked by Sky News broadcaster, saying on Friday: “I know it sounds eye-catching, but it’s just getting back to the civil service that we had in 2016.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the Daily Mail newspaper: “We have got to cut the cost of government to reduce the cost of living”, adding that it had become “swollen” during the coronavirus pandemic.
He told the paper that 91,000 jobs needed to be cut – 20 percent of the entire civil service – to save about 3.5 billion British pounds ($4.3bn) a year.
The government is struggling to balance the books, having spent huge sums during the pandemic, and as it battles spiralling inflation that is holding back economic recovery and putting further pressure on public finances.
Rees-Mogg, the minister for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency, has in recent weeks taken aim at civil servants still working from home despite the lifting of all coronavirus restrictions.
He was criticised for leaving signed notes on empty desks at government departments, reading: “Sorry you were out. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon.”
Rees-Mogg said the civil service had expanded in recent years to deal with the UK’s departure from the European Union and the pandemic.
“Now we’re trying to get back to normal,” he said. “Up to 38,000 people a year leave the civil service, so the simplest way to do it is to have a freeze on recruitment.”
“You have to ensure that people are being used as efficiently as possible to do the roles that are necessary,” Rees-Mogg added.
Unions reacted with fury, with one leader warning that national strike action was “very much on the table”.
The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) is set to have an emergency meeting of its executive committee next week to discuss its response.
Mark Serwotka, PCS’s general secretary, told the PA news agency that any job cuts would affect anyone relying on public services.
“This is not about efficiency. This is about the prime minister trying to create a smokescreen to detract from his utter shambles of a government,” he said.
“Our members will not be the scapegoats for a failing government. We have our conference in 10 days’ time. Taking national strike action is very much on the table.”
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, which represents senior civil servants, told PA: “Without an accompanying strategy, these cuts appear more like a continuation of the government’s civil service culture wars, or even worse, ill-thought out, rushed job slashes that won’t lead to a more cost-effective government.”
Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said the proposal represented “an outrageous act of vandalism on our public services”.
“The big cuts to public services since 2010 have often proved an expensive error – these proposals risk doubling down on the mistake,” he said.
TUC Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak said: “The government is yet again treating the civil service with contempt”.