Jacob Reese-Mogg has said plans to cut more than 90,000 jobs in the civil service to free billions of pounds on measures to ease the cost of living crisis are not equal to a return to austerity.
During an outing day with cabinet ministers in Stoke-on-Trent on Thursday prime minister asked cabinet ministers to report within a month how they can reduce the number of their departments to the level of 2016.
The move would mean a reduction of about a fifth of the 475,000 workforce, which the government says will save about £ 3.5 billion a year.
Speaking Friday at Sky News, the minister Brexit Capabilities and effectiveness of government Jacob Reese-Mogg said the government was trying to return the civil service to normal after taking on “extra people to perform specific tasks”, including COVID-19 and Brexit.
Asked whether the reduction in the number of civil servants is a return to austerity, Mr Reese-Mogh said: “I don’t think it’s because what is being done is returning to the level of efficiency that we had in 2016. “
He said the easiest way to cut staff was to “freeze recruitment” as “up to 38,000 people leave the civil service each year.”
Mr Reese-Mogg added: “But in some departments you will be able to increase efficiency by increasing automation, greater use of technology, and that is what all smart businesses will do with completely smart and reasonable ambitions.”
He continued: “Ideologically only that we should spend taxpayers money right, not in vain.
“It’s about doing things right. It’s about effective management and recognizing that every penny we take from the tax should get away from the backs of people who work hard.”
The head of the FDA’s civil service union described the announcement as “either another headline-grabbing ploy or a reckless event for government officials.”
This comes at a time when Mr Johnson is under pressure to do more to address the cost of living crisis, which has brought inflation to its highest level in three decades – Tory MPs are pushing for tax cuts and Labor is accusing him of “no ideas.”
The prime minister told the Daily Mail, which was the first to report on the planned cuts, that during the pandemic the civil service “swelled”.
He added: “Every pound that the government buys from taxpayers is money that they can spend on their priorities, on their lives.”
The announcement appears to clarify the prime minister’s comment during a debate of the queen’s speech earlier this week, when he spoke of the need to “cut government spending”.
ITV News reports that the prime minister and the chancellor met on Monday to begin drafting a plan that would ban the filling of vacancies without the special permission of ministers.
A government spokesman said: “The prime minister and ministers clearly understand that the civil service is doing an excellent job of providing the public and encouraging progress in meeting the government’s priorities.
“But when people and businesses across the country face rising costs, the public rightly expects the government to set an example and work as efficiently as possible.”
Civil servants’ unions are already in dispute with ministers led by Jacob Rhys-Mogh, who are trying put pressure on government officials who worked from home during the pandemic to return to the tables in Whitehall.
Dave Penman, FDA secretary general, tweeted: “Eventually they may cut the civil service to 2016 levels, but they have to decide what the civil service should eventually stop doing.
“Reduce the passport desk, or the Department of Health and Human Services?
“If they don’t have a serious plan, it will be either another trick to grab headlines, or a reckless machinations for government services without thinking and caring about the consequences.”
On Friday on Sky News, Mr Reese-Mogg acknowledged that “there is a place to work from home”, but said remote work sometimes had a negative impact on public services.
A Labor spokesman said: “The Cabinet has said it will focus on the cost of living crisis facing families across the country.
“Instead of implementing an emergency budget, they decided to bring the workers back again through pointless rhetoric and lack of action.”
During a discussion on the effectiveness of public service, Mr. Reese-Mog was shown to have arrived for the morning broadcast along with a handful of advisers.
Asked if everyone needed it, he replied: “They don’t all work directly for me. They work in the Cabinet – and two are my special advisers.”