finance

Cutting 90,000 civil service jobs grabs headlines, but will it actually happen?


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Good morning. Today I gather my thoughts on a leaked letter which will worry civil servants, as well as discuss some good news for pro-immigration liberals. Do get in touch via the email address below.


Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenkb and please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to insidepolitics@ft.com.


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Just in Case

Over at ITV News, deputy political editor Anushka Asthana has got hold of a letter from cabinet secretary Simon Case addressed to civil servants. Case says Boris Johnson has asked him to begin plans to shrink the size of the civil service back to 2016 levels, ie to reduce the number of officials employed by the UK government to pre-Brexit levels within three years. That means cutting up to 90,000 jobs, Asthana reports, which is a big jump from the 50,000 figure that the FT reported back in December 2021.

You’ll have spotted the obvious problem here. The Brexit vote, among other things, returned a bunch of powers and responsibilities to the UK government that had been handled by the EU. So, if you meaningfully reduce the number of civil servants in office, the services that the government provides are probably going to take a hit.

But it does produce a nice, reassuringly large-sounding headline figure. Jason Groves, political editor of the Daily Mail, has got hold of the same story. The Mail’s front page today suggests that downsizing the civil service could free up £3.5bn in revenue to spend in tax cuts. Now of course, this isn’t a particularly large number in the scheme of government spending: but it sounds reassuringly large to most voters.

Governments like future efficiency savings because the political pain of delivering them is a problem for the future, but you can make promises based on the idea you will deliver those efficiencies in the present day. Like so many efficiency savings under so many governments, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if these cuts in the size of the civil service remain wholly theoretical.

Border farce

Conservative MPs have a lot of anxieties, but one of them is the government’s inability to get immigration down. The number of foreign nationals entering the UK is actually higher now than it was before we left the EU. Many Tory MPs believe that reducing the total number of people seeking to come to the country is a prerequisite to proving that Brexit works, as opposed to the government just having a greater degree of control. Are they right? Not according to my colleague John Burn-Murdoch’s latest column. Here’s the key chart:

Chart showing that before the EU referendum, anxiety over immigration rose in line with overseas arrivals. Since then immigration has kept rising, but concerns have evaporated

John has looked at the data and they all point the same way: voter concern over immigration in the UK correlates with the presence of control, rather than the level of immigration. So are Conservatives wrong to worry about the electoral consequences of failing to reduce numbers?

Well, yes and no. Because while just one in seven Britons now says that immigration is one of the top issues facing the UK, those voters are twice as likely to be Conservative than Labour, according to an Ipsos survey conducted in April.

Remember that the big difference in 2019 compared with 2017 wasn’t that the Conservatives gained all that many votes from Labour directly. Rather, it was the fact that Labour lost votes to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, and because people did not turn up to vote. And in 2017, one reason the Conservatives lost their majority was that some voters stayed at home rather than turned out to vote.

Tory MPs are right to worry that, while the UK’s present immigration policy is broadly popular with voters, it turns off enough voters that it need to be a headache for them.

Now try this

I always enjoy the weekly column by the FT’s innovation editor John Thornhill on the impact of technology, but this week I was even more grateful to him for bringing to my attention this delightfully savage assessment of a new production of Berlioz’s Les Troyens by our opera critic Shirley Apthorp.

Thanks so much for the advice on whether or not to take the plunge on a flamboyant blue velvet jacket. I have decided in the end that the potential downside of looking like a children’s magician is outweighed by the possibility I will look like a jazz saxophonist. I’ll let you know how it goes. See you Monday and have a lovely weekend (why not test your news nous with the FT’s latest current affairs quiz?)

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