FIGHTING waste in Whitehall must be a central part of the nation’s efforts to curb the rising cost of living.
It will also help fund tax cuts to let hard-working Britons keep as much of their own money as possible.
I work with some excellent civil servants who are cost-conscious but I see the widespread evidence of a culture of wastefulness.
Fundamentally, there should be a sacred understanding in Government that all its money comes from private citizens and not a single pound should be spent unless it is really necessary.
Whitehall has not taken efficiency seriously enough.
I always knew there was a problem with waste but I soon saw how badly money can be spent, having taken up my post as minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency at the beginning of the year.
Too much of Whitehall is happy to ignore expensive office buildings that are empty or to fund time-wasting courses.
Unfortunately, it is not just that money is wasted, but what it is wasted on that is so harmful to our country: increasingly, this means divisive woke agendas designed to pit people against each other or talk the country down.
Alongside a reforming civil servant I have been going through the “learning and development” courses on offer.
We have found plenty with no possible benefit to civil servants’ skills and they will be deleted.
They will be replaced with ones that lead to measurable skills and better public services.
This is necessary because some sessions are indoctrination sessions — one was even called Check Yo! Privilege.
Surely wasting other people’s money on such nonsense is itself a sign of privilege?
That is why I have asked all courses under the themes of “diversity”, “inclusion” and “wellness” in the Cabinet Office to be scrapped, and encouraged all Secretaries of State to do the same in their own departments.
This week I was delighted to see Attorney General Suella Braverman dealing with this in her department, where staff had spent 2,000 hours on such courses last year.
Civil servants have even been treated to Q&A sessions with a “witch”.
When I arrived at the Cabinet Office this year it was also clear how bloated the department had become.
Now headcount reductions, with the exemplary support of the Permanent Secretary, are about to begin, as the CO2025 plan we have devised lays the foundations to reshape the department.
My much-reported visits elsewhere in Whitehall have revealed too much unused office space.
Why should taxpayers fund expensive central London offices that gather dust?
The emptiness of the Serious Fraud Office’s accommodation overlooking Trafalgar Square was a particular surprise.
So through our Places For Growth scheme, thousands of civil servants and even whole Government organisations including related quangos are being moved out of London.
This will be good for the country and good for civil servants, too, who can expect a higher quality of life in our great counties and towns.
London will also benefit, as we vacate buildings such as 1 Victoria Street and 102 Petty France, two of the characteristically ugly examples of post-war development.
And no part of the fight against waste is more important than combating fraud.
That is why this week the Public Sector Fraud Authority (PSFA) was launched to fight fraud against the public purse and the theft of taxpayers’ money.
This new body will cost £11million to run in its first year, with a target of recovering £180million stolen by fraud.
Clearly that is a welcome return and again shows the good side of the civil service, because the fraud specialists are an impressive team.
This new body was supposed to be launched last month — but the night before the launch event, Treasury mandarins put red lines through its mandate, deleting its most important powers and rendering the organisation toothless.
It would have had no right to brief Treasury ministers directly, nor a guaranteed role in developing counter-fraud policies with the Treasury — and the Treasury would have had no obligation to consult the PSFA when making important decisions about how to prevent fraud.
Admit to error
It was this type of obstruction that led Lord Agnew to resign, and his support was crucial to get the mandate right.
Hence, this important body was launched with its power reinstated.
It is estimated that £4.9billion has been lost to Covid fraud.
Some people even used Covid loans to buy sports cars.
Although the Government spends almost a trillion pounds of taxpayers’ money each year, even getting back a small part of that is useful.
Launching the PSFA was a victory for taxpayers, but the resistance I encountered illustrated the culture in the Treasury, just as it wants to maintain the over-regulated and over-taxed economy the EU favours by keeping our tax law in line with the EU’s.
Despite the many excellent public servants I work with, there is still a reluctance to admit to error which often makes things worse.
It is by gripping the detail that this culture will change. Running a tight ship has never been more important.
- Jacob Rees-Mogg is minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency.