Diane Abbott MP: Britain can’t afford a cull of civil servants

'Decimating the numbers of civil servants will only deepen various crises'

Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Numerous Tory MPs and newspaper columnists have been touting the idea for over several months that there must be very large reductions in the number of civil servants. This is part of their overall programme to ‘balance the books’.

This must be opposed as it would be hugely damaging both to people’s lives and to public services.

Culling the numbers of civil servants is a no longer confined to the Tory ideological fringes. It is not an original one as many governments have set out to cut the number of workers on the payrolls.

It is also born of an extreme neoliberal idea that the state itself is bad and that the private sector can deliver the same service better and more efficiently. Anyone who cannot avoid travelling on our privatised train services, or suffering under extortionate privatised energy bills, or who has seen the daily occurrence of huge amounts of raw sewage being pumped into our waterways knows that this claim is completely false.

There is also a flipside to all this. It is already the case that huge numbers of people have been struggling to obtain passports in a timely way. There is a crisis too in terms of driving tests and drivers’ licences. Our courts face increasing delays and backlogs. Justice really is being delayed and denied to victims and the accused alike. Even ministers admit that the crisis in social care is deepening.

Decimating the numbers of civil servants will only deepen these various crises, which all have similar roots of underfunding. Low pay is forcing people to leave and the effects of the pandemic, which is far from over, have created more delays and additional staff shortages.

The number of civil servants employed in this country is only just over 500,000. This is about 1 in 60 of all workers and lower than the numbers employed in 2005.

For some time, leading Tories have been trying to outdo each other in their demands for the numbers of civil servants that should be fired. Jacob Rees-Mogg joined in the bidding war with a demand for 70,000 jobs to go and Boris Johnson outdid him with the target of 90,000. 

These are enormous numbers and would clearly be hugely damaging to the proper functioning of our public services and government at various levels.

Despite widespread media commentary, there is no sign that the Sunak/Hunt duo is any improvement on their predecessors. As they are now floating the idea of aiming for a budget surplus during a downturn, they are placing themselves at the extremist end of the Tory political spectrum, with cuts going way beyond the Truss/Kwarteng and Johnson/Sunak combinations that already did so much damage.

Of course, there may be some element of kite-flying in the various leaks about the upcoming spending review. But it seems certain there will be some combination of job cuts, lower pay in real terms and reductions in pensions.

All of these will lead to further demoralisation and undermine the proper working of the civil service. The labour movement should stand full square with the civil service unions if they decide to take industrial action against these measures.

(Picture credit: Defence images: Creative Commons)

Comments are closed.