Truss vows ‘war on waste in Whitehall’ with civil service shake-up

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Conservative leadership contender Liz Truss on Monday opened a new front in her fight with the Whitehall “establishment”, vowing to cut civil service pay and holidays and refusing to rule out breaking up the Treasury.

The foreign secretary has presented herself as a radical insurgent in her fight to become Britain’s next prime minister, portraying her rival, ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak, as a defender of a failed economic orthodoxy.

Truss promised far-reaching reforms to the civil service, claiming she could save almost £11bn a year from Britain’s bureaucracy, with proposals such as lower pay for officials who work in poorer parts of the UK.

The frontrunner in the Tory leadership race declared a “war on waste in Whitehall”, vowing to cut civil service holidays and axe 326 diversity officers working across government departments.

Truss, speaking at a hustings event in Exeter, also refused to rule out breaking up the Treasury, which she claims is leading Britain into recession by pursuing failed policies, including raising taxes to try to cut the deficit.

She said she was “prepared to break eggs” in taking on Whitehall orthodoxy and declined to rule out splitting the Treasury into separate finance and economic ministries.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to give them any advance warning if I was going to do that,” she said, before adding: “I do think the Treasury needs to change. And it has been a block on progress.”

Her comments coincided with the dispatch of ballot papers to more than 150,000 Conservative party members who will choose the successor to outgoing premier Boris Johnson; a result will be declared on September 5.

Truss’s campaign was given another boost when trade minister Penny Mordaunt, who secured the support of 105 Tory MPs in the early stages of the leadership contest, backed the foreign secretary’s bid.

Mordaunt offered her endorsement of Truss in a surprise appearance at the Exeter hustings, attended by Tory members. She said the foreign secretary was the “hope” candidate.

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak hopes to use the events to regain momentum in the contest and has injected more passion into his campaign appearances and his allies insist he can still overtake Truss.

Truss’s Whitehall initiative combines a push against what some Tory activists consider a bloated state with an attack on “diversity and inclusion” jobs — another front in the so-called “war on woke”.

Truss wants regional pay boards to tailor pay to the cost of living where civil servants work. She says this could ultimately save £8.8bn if the idea were extended to all public sector workers, including nurses and teachers.

Allies of Truss said any new pay scales would apply only to new recruits. She also wants to move more civil servants out of London and to bring holiday entitlement into line with the private sector.

Truss’s team says the idea of cutting pay for officials working in less prosperous areas would stop the public sector “crowding out” the private sector, which struggles to compete with higher wages paid by the state.

But Truss will face questions about how cutting public sector pay in regions like the north would deliver the government’s “levelling up” agenda. There would also be strong opposition from civil service unions.

“If Liz Truss is elected, and if she tries to go ahead with these proposals, she’ll face opposition every step of the way,” said the Public and Commercial Services union, adding: “Civil servants are not a political tool to be used and abused.”

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, said Truss would “do well to consider if any chief executive of a private company would think publicly attacking their staff in this way was a viable strategy for long-term success”.

Sunak, who has vowed to cut the basic rate of income tax from 20 per cent to 16 per cent by the end of the next parliament, hopes party members will back him as the candidate to deliver an election victory in 2024. But so far the polling evidence to support that claim is not overwhelming.

An IpsosUK poll found that among members of the public, Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer were neck and neck on 39 points on the question of who would make the most capable prime minister.

On the same question Starmer beat Truss by 41-35 and Johnson by 51-31.

But a separate poll by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found that voters, when asked who would make the better premier now, gave Starmer a 40-33 lead over Sunak but gave Truss a 37-36 lead over Starmer.

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