Liz Truss promises 'war on Whitehall waste' to cut costs

Measures are likely to meet fierce resistance from civil service unions if Truss tries to implement them

Liz Truss, Britain's Foreign Secretary and Conservative Party leadership candidate. AP
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Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss has outlined plans to cut civil service time off, scrap national pay deals and scrap jobs aimed at increasing inclusion and diversity in the public sector.

Her promise to "take on the Whitehall orthodoxy" and tackle what she regards as "left-wing groupthink" is her latest overture to the Tory membership that will decide whether she or Rishi Sunak becomes Britain's next prime minister.

The plans are likely to face fierce resistance from civil servants and were described by Labour as worsening a north-south divide that the government has promised to close.

But with polls showing her in the lead, the foreign secretary gained further momentum as former leadership rival Penny Mordaunt announced she was backing Ms Truss's campaign.

Ms Mordaunt's announcement came at the second of 12 party hustings, held in Exeter, where Ms Truss and Mr Sunak set out their economic policy plans as Tory members start to receive their ballot papers.

The foreign secretary said her cost-cutting plans in the public sector would save £11 billion ($14bn), with the majority of the savings coming from paying civil servants less outside more expensive London and the South East.

Further savings would come from reducing the number of diversity officers, of whom there are 326 in the civil service, her campaign said.

A prominent Truss backer, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said Ms Truss would "prevent the waste of taxpayers' money, such as in the woke indoctrination of civil servants".

Mr Rees-Mogg also accused Mr Sunak of pitching the very "fairytale economics" he had promised he would avoid, after he shifted tone by saying income taxes would fall 20 per cent over the next seven years.

The civil service has long been viewed with suspicion by some Conservative MPs due to its perceived social liberalism and reluctance to embrace Brexit.

But Ms Truss's proposals were met with a furious response from a major civil service union, which vowed to oppose her plans “every step of the way”.

“As prime minister I will run a leaner, more efficient, more focused Whitehall that prioritises the things that really matter to people and is laser-focused on frontline services," Ms Truss said.

“There is too much bureaucracy and stale groupthink in Whitehall.

"If I make it into Downing Street, I will put an end to that and run a government that focuses relentlessly on delivering for the British public, and offer value to hard-working taxpayers.

“I have shown in my time in government that I’m prepared to take on the Whitehall orthodoxy and get things done.

“The British people can trust me to deliver on my promises and tackle the cost of living immediately.”

The Truss campaign said that because civil service pay is negotiated at a national level, no account is taken of the regional cost of living.

By introducing regional boards, civil servants’ pay can be adjusted in line with the areas in which they work, saving the taxpayer billions and ensuring private employers are not “crowded out” by higher public sector wages.

The savings could be enhanced by moving more civil servants out of London.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner condemned Ms Truss’s plans.

“This wannabe prime minister is stuck in the past, fighting old battles and promising a race to the bottom on public sector workers’ pay and rights," Ms Rayner said.

“Her ‘tailored’ pay plans would level down the pay of northerners, worsening the divide which already exists.

"This out-of-touch government’s commitment to levelling up is dead.”

About £2bn would be saved by bringing the average civil service leave entitlement down from 27 days to the 25 in the manufacturing and private services sectors.

Scrapping Whitehall diversity officers would save about £12 million a year. Ms Truss’s campaign said there were at least 326 in government departments.

Facility time, under which trade union representatives receive paid time off to focus on union work, would be banned — as would allowing the use of grants, offices and equipment — saving up to £137m, the campaign said.

The package of measures set out by Ms Truss are likely to meet fierce resistance from civil service unions if she tries to implement them from Downing Street.

“Liz is a low-tax, small state Conservative with a distrust of big government," a campaign source said.

"She will shake up Whitehall and take the radical steps required to tackle the waste and inefficiencies that lie at the heart of government.

“She will make sure every single official knows their job about delivering the pledges made in the 2019 manifesto and the things that the public care about.”

Everything you need to know about Liz Truss

Everything you need to know about Liz Truss

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, replied: “If Liz Truss is elected, and if she tries to go ahead with these proposals, she’ll face opposition every step of the way.

“Civil servants are not a political tool to be used and abused for one person’s ambition. They are the hard-working people who keep the country running, day in day out, and they deserve respect.”

Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect union, said: “Liz Truss has spent the last few weeks trashing the record of her own government.

"Judging by this vacuous attempt to garner headlines friendly to her electorate, she plans more of the same economically illiterate and insulting ideological nonsense that this government has been churning out in recent years."

Updated: August 02, 2022, 7:38 AM