Jeremy Hunt goes to war on ‘immoral’ Whitehall waste

Jeremy Hunt
The Chancellor said that the Office for Budget Responsibility had 'gone against us', leaving him with less room for manoeuvre than he had hoped - Paul Grover for the Telegraph

Jeremy Hunt is plotting a war on “immoral” Whitehall waste to fund tax cuts, The Telegraph can disclose.

In an exclusive interview, the Chancellor revealed that he will unveil plans in this week’s Budget to crack down on bureaucracy in the public sector and to slash tens of thousands of civil service jobs.

He has vowed to cut red tape that forces doctors, nurses and police officers to spend hours filling out forms and he criticised Whitehall departments that spend public money on “woke” initiatives that he finds “very hard to defend”.

The Chancellor also disclosed that the economic forecasts he received this week from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) have “gone against us”, leaving him with less fiscal headroom than he hoped

And he added that he thought people were at the “limit” of how high they are prepared to see their taxes go, but warned that there was a “long path” ahead before he brings them down

Mr Hunt is weighing up whether to axe “non-dom” status or extend the windfall tax on oil and gas companies as he seeks novel ways to fund tax relief for Middle England in the Budget.

Treasury officials are believed to be considering a range of options, including reducing employee national insurance contributions, cutting income tax and extending the freeze on fuel duty.

The Sunday Times reported that Mr Hunt will scrap the preferential tax regime for holiday lets in the Budget. It is expected that the move will help to raise £300million a year.

This week Mr Hunt will announce plans to boost public sector productivity in an attempt to deliver up to £1.8 billion worth of benefits by 2029.

He said: “Public sector waste is immoral. It is taking money out of taxpayers’ pockets.”

The Chancellor said he wanted to restart the programme of public sector reform which was halted during the pandemic, adding: “We’re going to do it for a very conservative reason, which is that I look around the world and I know that the most successful economies are ones with lower taxes, particularly North America and Asia.”

Mr Hunt went on to say that there is “too much waste across many parts of the public sector”, adding that “the money we spend on public services could be spent much more efficiently”.

He also criticised “woke” spending by Whitehall departments, where civil servants’ time and resources are spent on equality, diversity and inclusion hires and initiatives.

Glass ceilings

“I find some of those initiatives very hard to defend,” he said.

“I’m a big believer in smashing glass ceilings, but the people who smash glass ceilings, or who can make sure the glass ceilings are smashed, are the people who run companies and who run organisations. It’s not something you should subcontract to a kind of a unit of people who are paid a lot of money.”

Earlier this year, the head of Britain’s spending watchdog warned that more than £10 billion of taxpayers’ money was being wasted by the public sector every year. Gareth Davies, the head of the National Audit Office, said poor management, benefits fraud and “antiquated” computer systems were to blame.

The Chancellor will announce a range of measures to boost productivity, such as fitting MRI scanners with artificial intelligence so patients can get faster results, and interviewing crime witnesses and victims via video call to speed up police investigations.

Mr Hunt said he would like to see the number of Civil Service jobs return to pre-pandemic levels, meaning 66,000 Whitehall jobs would be cut, which is equivalent to one in seven.

“I think overall, there are definitely areas where we are employing more people than we should,” he said. “I do think that we need to get back to our pre-Covid baseline when it comes to the numbers of civil servants.

“You had a huge expansion of Civil Service during the pandemic that was justified. It was an exceptional situation, but we’re not in a pandemic now. And still we’ve ended up with a civil service that is significantly bigger than it was.”

Mr Hunt is facing a backlash from Tory backbenchers and Army chiefs after reports emerged that no new money was set to be announced for the Ministry of Defence in Wednesday’s Budget. The Defence Secretary wrote to the Chancellor formally making a request for more money, in which he warned that the UK needed to “re-establish our leadership in Europe”.

Responding to the row, Mr Hunt said: “No one needs to persuade me of the importance of our commitment to defence. And I do think we will need to spend more money on defence. But in order to fund that over many years, what I need to do is to get the economy growing.”


Jeremy Hunt: 'The public are at their limit over taxes'

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