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Senior Civil Service Staff (Reductions)

Volume 569: debated on Wednesday 30 October 2013

2. What assessment he has made of the effect on the functioning of government of reductions in the number of senior civil service staff; and if he will make a statement. (900779)

Since April 2010, the number of senior civil servants has reduced by 16% and the senior civil service pay bill has reduced by 20%. Last year, civil servants helped to deliver more than £10 billion in efficiency savings by changing the way in which Whitehall and central Government operate. We are determined to drive even greater value for the taxpayer while continuing to provide exceptional public services.

Is not the truth that Government cuts have seen many senior civil servants take early retirement, with an enormous loss of expertise and capacity, with increasing staff churn and work overloads, leading to problems like the west coast main line franchise chaos, delays in replying to Members’ correspondence and much else besides?

I wish to take this opportunity to praise civil servants for the work that they have done. With a civil service that is significantly smaller than that which we inherited in May 2010, productivity has improved markedly. The civil service is delivering at least as much as it was before, with fewer people. Engagement scores have stayed high, and I want to praise them rather than run down what they do.

I join my right hon. Friend in commending the senior civil service for operating in the way it does. Does he agree that its capability is not enhanced by the degree of churn in the top jobs in the civil service, and what will the Government do to address that?

There has been concern over a long period about senior civil servants—and not just senior civil servants—not staying in post long enough. We are seeking to address that, and I know that the leadership of the civil service takes the issue very seriously. One of the effects of moving to fixed tenure for permanent secretaries will, I suspect, be to lengthen the period they stay in post rather than, as some have feared, shorten it.

Have the Government yet worked out when we will reach the tipping point at which reducing further the number of senior civil servants will not improve the service they provide but will impinge on it?

As I say, there have been significant reductions. Productivity has improved and we believe that significantly more productivity can be gained. Current departmental plans show a continued reduction in the size of the civil service through to May 2015. We are finding different ways of doing things better with fewer people and at lower cost.

Is it not absolutely right that the effectiveness of public services is more important than the number of civil servants who are employed? What measures is my right hon. Friend taking to measure the productivity of civil servants so they can no longer be a drag on our economy, but enhance it?

At is best, the civil service is not a drag on the economy; it is an important component of the economy working successfully. The leadership of the civil service identified significant deficiencies in capability, which are now being addressed. Frankly, they had been left unaddressed for far too long. Urgent action is now being taken and we need to drive it through.