Osborne looks to set an example with Treasury staff cull

The Chancellor may slash his own headcount by 25% - but he'll find it easier than most...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
There'll be some nervous twitching of glasses in Whitehall this morning, after Treasury mandarins awoke to an FT headline that Chancellor George Osborne is intending to slash the headcount in his own department by a quarter over the next four years - 'pour encourager les autres', as they'd say in Paris. After all, if he's seriously expecting all his ministerial colleagues to slash their budgets by 25-40%, he can hardly let his own continue in its current rather bloated state...

Apparently a whopping 1,350 people work in the Treasury these days, which sounds to us like an awful lot. And apparently Osborne thinks the same, because according to the FT, he's planning to cut this to about 1,000 over the course of the current parliament. The good news for panicked civil servants is that, supposedly, all these jobs will go via natural attrition - i.e. people leaving, retiring and so on. Now he may of course be right - this is presumably based on the department's standard attrition rate, and stories like this will encourage people to seek out a safer (and possibly more lucrative) berth in the private sector. Then again, we wouldn't be surprised if a few who were planning to leave anyway now hang around in the hope of a nice redundancy cheque.

In effect, Osborne has no real choice but to wield the axe, since he's asking the same of pretty much every department in Whitehall. It would hardly help his cause if he seemed to be making a special case for his own department; if he's not prepared to put his mouth where our money isn't, why should any of his ministers? Now he (and his much-vaunted 'star chamber' of Super Slashers) can say to them all: 'I've done it', so why can't you?'

Then again, he might find it rather easier than most. During his time as Chancellor, Gordon Brown massively expanded the role of the Treasury so that it effectively ended up overseeing a large chunk of Government spending - all part of the former PM's 'empire-building' to boost his power and influence, the Coalition will tell you. So if it re-focuses on its 'core responsibilities as an economics and finance ministry' (as the FT's source suggested today), it can't possibly need thirteen hundred and odd people traipsing the hallowed halls with their calculators and paper clip holders.

So for Osborne, this is a win-win situation: it delivers a timely and important message to his own ministers, while putting the boot into New Labour at the same time (two for the price of one - just the kind of efficiency we need in Whitehall these days). On the other hand, not all of his other ministers will have quite as much obvious departmental fat to trim...

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