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Boris Johnson warned ballot on strike action ‘almost inevitable’ over plan to axe 90,000 civil service jobs

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Boris Johnson is on collision course with unions over contentious plans to axe over 90,000 civil service jobs, with one general secretary warning a ballot on strike action “almost inevitable”.

As the proposals emerged, the prime minister was also accused of treating government employees with “contempt” and “throwing them under a bus” in an attempt to distract from intense pressure on the cost-of-living crisis.

It comes after Mr Johnson told cabinet ministers on Thursday to bring forward plans to reduce staffing levels in their departments and return the civil service to 2016 levels — a reduction of 91,000 staff.

He suggested the billions saved could be used for tax cuts, saying: “Every point the government pre-empts from the taxpayer is money they can spend on their own priorities, their own lives”.

The comments provoked embarrassment at HM Revenue & Customs, with the department’s top official apologising to staff for hearing about the planned job cuts through the media — instead of internal channels.

Unions representing civil servants have also reacted with fury, with the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) now expected to hold an emergency executive meeting next week to discuss a response.

Speaking to The Independent, general secretary Mark Serwotka, said: “We’ve got a conference in 10 days and I think it is almost inevitable we will vote to move to an industrial action ballot early in the autumn.

“We were already planning to consult over the question of cost-of-living cuts. I think the threat now to one-in-five jobs makes that an inevitability.

He added: “We’re shocked about the shambolic nature of the announcement. There was no advance notice or consultation.

“We take it seriously. We don’t just think this is an announcement made for political purposes – it is clearly that – but we have no doubt they are serious about trying to make the cuts and if they do that that will be devastating.”

“We’ve had two weeks of [Jacob] Rees-Mogg moaning about passports being late and driving licences taking ages. His answer is to get rid of one in five of the workforce who are already struggling”.

Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior civil service, said: “The reason for the civil service’s expansion since 2016 isn’t because the government loosened the purse strings.

“The government needed civil servants to deal with the consequences of two unprecedented events: Brexit and the Covid pandemic,” he added.

“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”.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) deputy general secretary Paul Nowak also accused the government of treating the civil service with “contempt”.

“They deliver vital services, collect taxes, help people back into employment, regulate medicines, negotiate trade deals and thousands of other things that bind society together,” he added.

“It is shameful that the prime minister is throwing them under a bus to distract from the government’s failure to deal with the cost-of-living crisis”.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, minister for Brexit Opportunities and government efficiency, defended the plan on Friday, however, saying the job cuts would bring numbers back to 2016 levels after extra staff were brought in to help deal with the pandemic and the “aftermath of Brexit”.

He told Sky News: “I know it sounds eye-catching but it’s just getting back to the civil service we had in 2016. Since then, we’ve had to take on people for specific tasks.

“So dealing with the aftermath of Brexit and dealing with Covid, so there’s been a reason for that increase, but we’re now trying to get back to normal.”

Rees-Mogg defended the plans saying move will return civil service staffing to 2016 levels


Responding to his comments, the senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, however, said: “I’m beginning to believe there’s a ‘Dead Cat Committee’ in No 10 spewing out a regular drumbeat of sensationalist headlines.”

In a separate announcement on Friday, the government also said all civil service jobs are to be advertised externally following recruitment changes to ensure the “best possible candidates for every position”.

Steve Barclay, the Cabinet Office minister who has written to cabinet ministers to outline the changes, said: “Civil servants do a great job delivering public services for people up and down the country, and just like in any high-performing business in the private sector, employees thrive when there is diversity of leadership.

“The pathway to achieving this aim is to ensure the civil service is able to select from amongst the widest possible pool of talent so we can hire the highest calibre staff. This will also contribute to our commitment to levelling up opportunity across the UK by moving roles out of London.

“We want to reduce the size of the civil service so it comes back down to the levels we had in 2016 but it remains important that, when we do recruit, particularly for leadership roles, we are able to bring in the best possible candidates for every position.”



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