When George Oborne addressed the cabinet this morning his message was the usual one about trying to make the cuts as fair as possible and to “fall on the broadest shoulders”. The chancellor admitted that this was an “anxious time for some in the public sector” who could now lose their jobs.
Lord Adonis meanwhile claims in this morning’s FT that “Whitehall is stunned and morale risks plummeting” as the cuts reality dawns. This chimes with what I’m told by several civil servants who read this blog.
Many departments are already going through a redundancy process – instigated in June – even before the new £83bn wave of cuts which will see an estimated half a million public sector jobs go.
I am told of one leaving party for BIS staff, held in a local pub, which attracted three or four hundred attendees. The atmosphere was utterly morose. Meanwhile some civil servants are receiving letters giving them only a week to decide whether or not they want to leave. As for those who are quitting, there are rumours that they may not be paid their redundancy payments until the end of November – a six week gap. “It feels really chaotic,” one tells me. Yet this is only a foretaste of the cuts to come.
One minister tells me that laying off civil servants is much harder than it seemed in opposition. “You get to know them, and realise that it’s people’s lives that you’re playing with,” he admits. (Incidentally he regrets that you can’t stop the good mandarins from taking the redundancy pay-offs).
Such remorse is not universal across the ministerial world, however. One cabinet minister, a Tory, told me yesterday that the cuts were something he had been looking forward to for years.
By the way, if you are still expecting to know all the fine details of the £83bn cuts today think again. As Alex pointed out this morning, many capital spending decisions (not just education) are yet to be taken and could be weeks or months away. David Cameron’s spokesman told journalists this morning:
“Some departments will be able to say ‘we’re cutting this benefit or stopping that activity’, in other areas that is going to take some time.”
Prepare yourself for a flurry of white papers emanating from almost every Whitehall department in the next few weeks.