Jacob Rees-Mogg has defended proposed cuts to the Civil Service by saying that extra staff were brought in to help deal with the pandemic and the “aftermath of Brexit".
The Prime Minister was understood to have told his Cabinet on Thursday that the service should be cut by a fifth.
Speaking on Friday morning, Mr Rees-Mogg told Sky News the reductions would see workforces return to 2016 numbers.
“I know it sounds eye-catching but it's just getting back to the civil service we had in 2016... since then we've had to take on people for specific tasks. So dealing with the aftermath of Brexit and dealing with Covid, so there's been a reason for that increase, but we're now trying to get back to normal," he said.
He also rejected suggestions it was a return to austerity. “I don’t think it is because what is being done is getting back to the efficiency levels we had in 2016,” he said.
The Brexit Opportunities minister said he had seen “duplication" within government departments and the axing will mean people are being used "as efficiently as possible".
“What I've seen within the Cabinet Office, which is where I work and bear in mind each secretary of state will be responsible for is or her own department, is that there's duplication within government, so you have a communications department and then you have within another department some people doing communications.
“So it's trying to ensure that you use the resources that you've got rather than duplicating it bit by bit."
However, the FDA civil servants union warned the “ill-thought-out” proposal would not lead to a more cost-effective Government and could have impacts on passport processing, borders and health.
FDA general secretary Dave Penman said the expansion of Whitehall since 2016 was necessary to “deal with the consequences of two unprecedented events – Brexit and the Covid pandemic”.
“To govern is to choose and ultimately this Government can decide to cut the civil service back to 2016 levels, but it will also then have to choose what the reduced civil service will no longer have the capacity to do. Will they affect passports, borders or health?” he said.
“Without an accompanying strategy, these cuts appear more like a continuation of the Government’s civil service culture wars, or even worse, ill-thought out, rushed job slashes that won’t lead to a more cost-effective government.”
A Labour Party spokesman said: “Instead of implementing an emergency budget they have chosen to let down working people once again through pointless rhetoric and lack of action.”
A Government spokeswoman said “the public rightly expect their Government to lead by example and run as efficiently as possible” as the nation faces rising costs.