Instead of getting rid of civil servants, how about cutting one overpaid job – Jacob Rees-Mogg’s?

The majority of the 91,000 civil servants now at risk of redundancy have got proper jobs to do – unlike some

Sean O'Grady
Friday 13 May 2022 13:53
<p>Jacob Rees-Mogg has said the EU is trying to punish the UK for Brexit through the NI Protocol (Stefan Rousseau/PA)</p>

Jacob Rees-Mogg has said the EU is trying to punish the UK for Brexit through the NI Protocol (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

It takes some chutzpah to be Jacob Rees-Mogg, the caricature of a toff now demoted to the oxymoronic position of minister for Brexit opportunities.

Languishing on the front bench like something out an Edwardian illustration by Spy lies Rees-Mogg – he of the deliberately archaic double-breasted suits, the top hat at Ascot, a man who sees the food bank boom as evidence of the innate generosity of the British people. To call your (sixth) son “Sixtus” takes some gumption, as does proudly admitting you’ve never changed a nappy but “the nanny does it brilliantly”. Sometimes you wonder if that level of affectation might actually mean he’s authentic. An authentic, upper class twit of the year, that is.

Anyway, sod the optics, Jacob must have thought as he went on the media round to talk about civil service overmanning with no less than four civil service advisers in tow. Four! Rees-Mogg still has a functioning mind and should really have a sufficiently strong grip on his brief not to require this picket of intellectual valets to look after him as he prepares for breakfast television. But it seems he cannot function without a status-enhancing entourage to help guide his judgments.

Given the mess he made of rescuing Owen Paterson last year, perhaps the prime minister might wish to commission a little time and motion study into this most elegant of anachronisms. It’s not at all clear JRM gives the taxpayer value for money, even accounting for his contribution to the gaiety of the nation.

I, for one, can’t wait to catch the Festival of Brexit, one of JRM’s enthusiasm, now rebranded “UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK”, which has apparently been touring the kingdoms for some months, though entirely unnoticed by the public. It cost some £120m of taxpayers’ money and was described by the Culture Select Committee as “an irresponsible use of public money given the government’s own admission that it does not know what it is for”.

That’s Conservative government for you.

So is an apparent ballooning of the size of the civil service since 2016 (funnily enough, the year of Brexit). About 91,000 assorted civil servants have been taken on since then, to deal with the exigencies created by Covid and, erm, Brexit.

So naturally the government, ie Boris Johnson and JRM, want to get rid of them all as soon as possible. Every department, says Rees-Mogg, will be expected to chip in with a few thousand supposed skiving WFH lay offs – and then they can use the money to cut taxes on “hard working families” in the private sector, who, as we all know, never WFH or swing the lead. Except, that is, for those arms of government that aren’t going to be asked to shed staff, such as the passport office.

For a man with the responsibility for transforming Whitehall efficiency, Rees-Mogg seems not to have given much thought to the possibility that post-covid backlogs of work in the passport office and the DVLA are causing the delays, just as they are causing even more obvious problems in schools, GP surgeries, ambulance services and hospitals. And I don’t suppose it’s worth mentioning the £33 billion this government spaffed on test and trace that didn’t work, and billions more on crony Covid contracts, is it? They do seem to enjoy wasting other people’s money.

JRM talks about new technologies improving production and replacing human beings, which is fair enough. Yet the right honourable gentleman doesn’t strike one as being one of nature’s modernisers, what with his apparent attachment to a Bristow cartoon-era of office-bound pinstriped civil servants chatting about “the great tea trolley disaster of ‘78”.

I’m guessing he needs his advisers to punch his manuscript guesswork numbers of redundancies into what they call, I believe, a “spreadsheet”, a most wondrous invention that can do the work of an entire accounts department, you know. This is a man who, let us recall, has imposed imperial measurements on the officials who work for him – and he doesn’t give an inch.

Rees-Mogg also seems curiously quiet about the documented increase in the number of political appointees kicking around Whitehall; young men and women given very well paid work almost straight out of university, while they try and find a safe Conservative seat. They are basically employed by the taxpayer to create propaganda for the government.

They have been under all parties but, as ever, this government has taken the abuse of what was supposed to be a little grit in the administrative order to new heights. The cost of our army of spotty spads has increased from £8.4 million in 2016 to about £11.9 million. Whereas Gordon Brown’s administration got by with 71 trainee political hacks, Johnson and his minsters have treated themselves to 113. It’s not big money in the great scheme of things, but it does feel like a scam.

The truth is that the great majority of the 91,000 have got proper jobs to do in civilian support roles in the Ministry of Defence, job centres, HMRC (chasing taxes lost and fraudsters because of ministerial incompetence), the prison service, processing asylum claims, issuing passports and driving licences, and trying to make the vast new bureaucracy of Brexit work.

Their work is far from done, and we cannot do without them until at least they have cleared up the mess we’re in currently. We could, though, manage quite well without Jacob Rees-Mogg.

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