Liz Truss U-turned to scrap a major part of a proposed ‘war on Whitehall waste’ today after Tory critics warned it meant cutting the pay of millions of workers and lead to electoral disaster.
The Foreign Secretary announced last night plans to save up to £11billion with major reforms to Civil Service pay and conditions.
Some £8.8billion of savings was to come from axing national pay boards outside the South East and tailoring pay to reflect local private sector rates.
But she reversed on the plan today after criticism from Northern Tories and other supporters of Rishi Sunak over how it would be seen in the Red Wall seats the party took from Labour at the last election, at a time of growing cost-of-living fears.
Ben Houchen, the mayor of Tees Valley who is seen as a rising star of the party, said: ‘There is simply no way you can do this without a massive pay cut for 5.5m people including nurses, police officers and our armed forces outside London.
‘Liz Truss’s campaign is explicit that their savings target is only possible ”if the system were to be adopted for all public sector workers”.
‘This is a ticking time bomb set by team Truss that will explode ahead of the next general election.’
Northern MPs Richard Holden and Jacob Young also called on Ms Truss to drop the plan, while North Dorset’s Simon Hoare told Politics Home: ‘It’s the absolute antithesis of one nation Conservatism, politically suicidal, and economically illiterate.
‘It drives a coach and horses through the levelling-up agenda – it’s just nonsense.’
A spokeswoman for Ms Truss this morning accused critics of ‘a wilful misrepresentation of our campaign’.
‘Current levels of public sector pay will absolutely be maintained, she said.
‘Anything to suggest otherwise is simply wrong. Our hard-working frontline staff are the bed rock of society and there will be no proposal taken forward on regional pay boards for civil servants or public sector workers.’
Liz Truss today launched a ‘war on Whitehall waste’ as she pledged to slash £11billion per year
Ben Houchen (right), the mayor of Tees Valley who is seen as a rising star of the party, said: ‘There is simply no way you can do this without a massive pay cut for 5.5m people including nurses, police officers and our armed forces outside London’
Northern MPs Richard Holden and Jacob Young called on Ms Truss to drop the plan
Nicola Sturgeon? Just IGNORE her! Liz Truss brands the First Minister an ‘attention-seeker’
Liz Truss has branded Nicola Sturgeon an ‘attention seeker’ and said the best thing to do is ‘ignore her’ – sparking fury with the SNP.
Leadership hopeful Ms Truss made the comments at the Conservative hustings in Exeter last night.
The Foreign Secretary is competing with former Chancellor Rishi Sunak to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.
A member of the audience had asked: ‘What are you going to do to get Scotland on board? Because I’m sick to death hearing about Nicola Sturgeon trying to break up the Union.’
The chairman of the hustings, Whitehall editor of the Financial Times Sebastian Payne, added: ‘The bond of the United Kingdom has weakened over the past 12 years of the Conservative government, and if you look at Northern Ireland or Scotland, independence is very much a question again. What is your plan to reverse that?’
In response, Ms Truss, who described herself as ‘a child of the Union’ said: ‘We’re better together and I think the best thing to do with Nicola Sturgeon is to ignore her.
‘I’m sorry, she’s an attention seeker, that’s all she is. What we need to do is show the people of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales what we are delivering for them and make sure our policies are delivering for them right across the United Kingdom.’
Last night Ms Truss said: ‘As Prime Minister I will run a leaner, more efficient, more focused Whitehall that prioritises the things that really matter to people and is laser-focused on frontline services. There is too much bureaucracy and stale groupthink in Whitehall.
‘There is too much bureaucracy and stale groupthink in Whitehall. If I make it into Downing Street, I will put an end to that and run a government that focuses relentlessly on delivering for the British public, and offer value to hard-working taxpayers.
‘I have shown in my time in Government that I’m prepared to take on the Whitehall orthodoxy and get things done.
‘The British people can trust me to deliver on my promises and tackle the cost of living immediately.’
Her proposals met with a furious response from a major civil service union, which vowed to oppose her plans ‘every step of the way’.
And Institute for Government programme director Alex Thomas told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The whole Civil Service pay bill is only about £9 billion.
‘You’re not going to reduce the Civil Service pay bill to £200 million unless you pretty radically reshape the state.
‘I know she wants to be radical but possibly not quite that much, so it’s going to come from the wider public sector, it’s going to come from nurses and teachers and local authorities.’
The Truss campaign argued that because Civil Service pay is negotiated at a national level, no account is taken of the regional cost of living.
By introducing regional boards, civil servants’ pay can be adjusted in line with the actual areas where they work, saving the taxpayer billions but also ensuring private employers are not ‘crowded out’ by higher public sector wages.
The savings could be enhanced by moving more civil servants out of London.
Around £2 billion would be saved by bringing the average Civil Service leave entitlement down from 27 days to the 25 found in the manufacturing and private services sectors.
Scrapping Whitehall diversity officers would save around £12 million a year – Ms Truss’s campaign said there are at least 326 of the roles in government departments.
Backing the plans today, Jacob Rees-Mogg said the jobs were created by the ‘woke for the woke’.
Facility time, under which trade union representatives receive paid time off to focus on union work, would be banned – as would allowing the use of grants, offices and equipment – saving up to £137 million, the Truss campaign said.
The package of measures set out by Ms Truss are likely to meet fierce resistance from Civil Service unions if she tries to implement them from No 10.
A campaign source said: ‘Liz is a low-tax, small state Conservative with a distrust of big government. She will shake up Whitehall and take the radical steps required to tackle the waste and inefficiencies that lie at the heart of government.
‘She will make sure every single official knows their job about delivering the pledges made in the 2019 manifesto and the things that the public care about.’
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said: ‘If Liz Truss is elected, and if she tries to go ahead with these proposals, she’ll face opposition every step of the way.
‘Civil servants are not a political tool to be used and abused for one person’s ambition; they are the hard-working people who keep the country running, day in day out, and they deserve respect.’
Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect union, said: ‘Liz Truss has spent the last few weeks trashing the record of her own Government. Judging by this vacuous attempt to garner headlines friendly to her selectorate, she plans more of the same economically illiterate and insulting ideological nonsense that this Government has been churning out in recent years.’
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner condemned Ms Truss’s plans, saying: ‘This wannabe prime minister is stuck in the past, fighting old battles, and promising a race to the bottom on public sector workers’ pay and rights.
‘Her ‘tailored’ pay plans would level down the pay of northerners, worsening the divide which already exists. This out-of-touch Government’s commitment to levelling up is dead.’