Aspiring to 380,000 staff. “It is estimated that by 2015 the Civil Service will be around 23 percent smaller than it was in March 2010, operating with around 380,000 staff.” So sayeth the Coalition Government’s Civil Service Reform Plan from 2012 – but have these words been transliterated into deed? The graph at the top of this post shows the number of full-time equivalent employees in the Civil Service, which is the preferred measure for these sorts of things, over the past six years. You’ll notice that, with two reporting quarters left in 2015, the Government is still several thousand job cuts away from its target. 17,850 job cuts, in fact.
The smallest Civil Service since before WW2… This isn’t to downplay the scale of the cuts that have been achieved. The Civil Service is currently 19 per cent smaller than it was in March 2010. It has declined from about 492,590 to about 397,850 full-time equivalent staff. This, as figures revealed by the Cabinet Office to the Institute for Government demonstrate, is the lowest number of civil servants since just before the Second World War.
…and getting smaller. Besides, could the Government actually achieve its goal of reducing staff levels to 380,000? The graph also includes a pink dotted line that represents what would have happened were the job cuts implemented at a constant rate. From 2010’s Spending Review until the middle of last year, the actual cuts ran ahead of this line. More recently, they have slipped behind it. But what’s this? After a five-quarter breather, the pace of the cuts picked up again in the second quarter of this year. The Civil Service shed 2 per cent of its workforce during those short three months. The 380,000 mark could be back in sight.
The difference between cuts and cuts. Or is it? It’s worth noting that many of this year’s Civil Service cuts haven’t been cuts in the typical sense. They’ve been re-categorisations. The Highways Agency, which previously added 3,610 staff to the rolls of the Department for Transport, is now a government-owned company called “Highways England”. The Ordnance Survey, which accounted for 1,200 of the Business Department’s workforce, is also now a government-owned company. This removes these employees from the Civil Service, but it doesn’t strictly remove them from the Government’s wage bill. These are more cuts in number, less in costs.
Anticipating the Spending Review. All in all, this post’s graph is emblematic of the course of government cuts. They start off slowly, as ministers wake up to their task. Then they quicken, once the task becomes second nature. Then they slow again, when there is less to prune back. It reaches a point where the Government has to start coming up cleverer and more complicated ways of cutting… which brings us crashing into the forthcoming Spending Review. According to the fine folk at the IfG, “One area where it seems inevitable that we will see cuts is the Whitehall headcount.” But where? And how?