Civil Service put on chopping block for public spending cuts: Reducing jobs is a vote-winner, report Chris Blackhurst and Barrie Clement

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The Independent Online
WHEN Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, the Civil Service employed 736,000 people. Today it is down to 565,000. Cuts in public spending and the new cross-departmental regional offices being considered in Whitehall could take that figure below 500,000.

A Conservative government committed to bringing down public expenditure has been able to slash its way through departments with relative impunity. Last year, however, to the Government's great embarrassment, the number of civil servants rose by 11,000 to 565,000.

Putting civil servants on the street is a relatively easy way of saving money - and a vote-winner. A 5 per cent cut in Civil Service manpower - about 30,000 jobs - would lead to savings of pounds 1bn a year.

To date, the chosen methods have been 'natural wastage', voluntary and enforced redundancy programmes, privatisation and contracting out. The creation of regional centres is a new addition to the list.

Heading the attack is Sir Peter Levene, the Prime Minister's efficiency adviser. His job, he says, is not to cause misery for people who thought they were taking a job for life - rather it is to improve the lot of those that remain, who will give the taxpayer better value for money.

He has been exploring, through his efficiency unit, ways of improving the Civil Service. The idea of the regional centres, which will invariably lead to job cuts, was almost certainly examined and developed by his unit. It was mentioned in the last Conservative manifesto - the notion is said to have been invented by Michael Heseltine - and has since been taken forward.

As well as advising on the market-testing programme, it also undertakes 'efficiency scrutinies'. In one such study this year, on government spending on science and technology, Sir Peter found that the proportion of administrative staff was 50 per cent higher in government research establishments than in industrial counterparts.