[Update at end of post]
The dubiously talented convocation of non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) has branched out of late: the ubiquitous Emma Boon landed a place on Question Time, Matthew Sinclair – as ever giving the impression that his sense of humour has been surgically removed – is a TV and radio regular, and Matthew “Gromit” Elliott appears on Mail Online’s RightMinds.
Whitehall, with the usual traffic snarl
This enables those in and around this Astroturf lobby group to reach an audience far larger than that looking in on their website, and reinforce the impression that the TPA really has grassroots support, which it does not. It also enables folks like Elliott to over-inflate speculation into the pretence of real stories, which he has done with his latest wheeze, the proposed culling of tens of thousands of Civil Service jobs.
The RightMinds post gives the impression that the idea of getting Whitehall departments to function with only a third of current staff levels was a real and credible idea, from the mind of Young Dave’s recently departed policy guru Steve Hilton. But when you rummage around and find the original article on which Elliott bases his post – in the Murdoch Sun – things become less clear.
There, Kevin Schofield’s “exclusive” quotes a “senior source” (they never do come with names, or even departments concerned, do they?) who tells “Our department has already lost a lot of staff, and I believe it could lose another third”. This is then translated as a potential two-thirds cut, with the fact of almost 18,000 job cuts last year tacked on at the end, almost as an afterthought.
So someone expressed his opinion to the man from the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, who in turn inflated it into an exclusive. Then Elliott takes the supposed story and turns it into fact: “Steve Hilton has asked Government departments to draw up plans for how they could function with only a third of their existing Civil Servants”. That would be difficult, given Hilton had no executive authority.
And it would be even more difficult now he has left for California, the reason cited being his – surprise, surprise – difficulty in getting on with the Civil Service (the more bonkers reasons for his departure include leaving the EU). So it’s entirely plausible that the “cuts” story came out of Hilton’s corner of 10 Downing Street. But that doesn’t make it even remotely likely to happen.
That likelihood is not going to improve however much Elliott throws in key TPA smears, such as “over-bloated civil service”. He is dressing up an already weak story with his own prejudice and ignorance: Elliott, like the rest of the TPA, has next to no understanding of public service, either at local or national level, and padding his copy with regurgitation of Parkinson’s Law will not change that.
These “two thirds” job cuts are not going to happen. End of story.
[UPDATE 1850 hours: the real reason for feeding the original story to the Sun may not be unconnected to the overwhelming vote by members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) to reject the Government's pension reforms. Putting out a scare story suggesting that Whitehall could get along on just a third of the staff has resulted in over 90% of respondents rejecting the pension proposals.
Further industrial unrest is now in prospect, although what form it will take waits on coordination with other public sector unions. Good to see the Murdoch press and the TPA having the usual influence on affairs, or lack thereof]