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Slashing 91,000 civil service jobs is "perfectly reasonable" after Brexit and the pandemic, Jacob Rees-Mogg has insisted.
The minister for Brexit opportunities and efficiency noted the civil service had "taken on extra people for specific tasks... but now we're trying to get back to normal".
In an interview with Sky News, Mr Rees-Mogg revealed the cuts would come from arms-length bodies, including quangos, and cracking down on "duplication".
"There are many savings that come from that. Therefore you have to make sure people are being used as efficiently as possible," he said.
Asked if it marked a return to austerity, he responded: "I don’t think it is, because what is being done is getting back to the efficiency levels we had in 2016. That’s a perfectly reasonable and sensible objective. The only bit that is ideological is we should spend taxpayers’ money properly, not wastefully."
Separately, Mr Rees-Mogg said Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, was being "reasonable" in his party's plans to block the election of a speaker at the Northern Ireland Assembly today.
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'No sign' of a serious plan, claims trade union leader
The general secretary of a trade union has poured scorn on the Government's announcement tens of thousands of Whitehall staff are to be axed as he said there was "no sign" of a serious plan.
Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA, accused ministers of plucking a point in time "out of thin air" despite the impacts of coronavirus and Britain's exit from the European union.
"Unless we can undo Brexit and undo the pandemic, it’s unclear what the government means," Mr Penman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "A serious government can decide what size it wants for the civil service but also has to say what it wants to stop doing if it’s going to have cuts of this magnitude.
On the idea the same work would be done more efficiently by fewer people, Mr Penman noted existing delays at the passport office and "all the issues around Brexit and customs", adding: "If the Government is going to be serious about this, we have to do all these things, which is what the extra staffing was for.
"In 2016 the civil service was at its lowest level since the Second World War. It had already delivered huge efficiencies at that point, so thinking you can just squeeze those savings again is just unrealistic."
'Many savings' to be made by getting back to pre-Covid civil service
Boris Johnson's pledge to cut 91,000 civil service jobs may sound "eye-catching" - but Jacob Rees-Mogg said it is "just getting back to the civil service that we had in 2016".
"We’ve taken on extra people for specific tasks – so dealing with the aftermath of Brexit and dealing with Covid so there’s been a reason for the increase, but now we’re trying to get back to normal," the Brexit opportunities minister told Sky News.
"Up to 38,000 people a year leave the civil service [every year], so the simplest way to do it is to have a freeze on recruitment, which we’ve done in the Cabinet Office. We need to have with the reductions a very effective learning and development programme, so that civil servants whose roles may not be the optimal use of their time can be trained so they can fulfil other roles within the civil service."
Asked where the cuts will come from, he said: "Arms-length bodies - this includes the quangos. What I’ve seen within the Cabinet Office where I work, and bear in mind each Secretary of State will be responsible for his own department, is that there is duplication within the Government.
"You have a communications department and you have in another department some people doing communications. So it’s trying to ensure that you use the resource that you’ve got rather than duplicating it bit by bit. Therefore there are many savings that come from that."