UK finance minister Hunt freezes civil service expansion

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – British finance minister Jeremy Hunt said on Monday he would freeze the expansion of the country’s civil service and intended to return it to its pre-pandemic size, a plan which he said would save up to 1 billion pounds ($1.21 billion) next year.

Hunt said that Britain employed 66,000 more civil servants now than before COVID-19 struck in 2020, and the plan to shrink the number of officials was aimed at cutting costs in the long-term.

“I’m freezing the expansion of the civil service and putting in place a plan to reduce its numbers to pre-pandemic levels. This will save 1 billion pounds next year,” he told the governing Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester.

Headcount would be immediately capped at the current level, the government said in a follow-up statement, although it added that this did not equate to a recruitment freeze. There are currently around 488,000 civil servants.

Government departments would also be asked to produce plans to reduce headcount to pre-pandemic levels in the coming years, the finance ministry said, and spending on equality, diversity and inclusion is to be reviewed to ensure it represents value for money for the taxpayer.

($1 = 0.8237 pounds)

(Reporting by UK bureau; Editing by William Schomberg and Kylie MacLellan)