The civil service has paused its flagship graduate scheme for at least a year in order to slash staff numbers.
The Civil Service Fast Stream, which has recruited more than 1,000 people annually over the past five years, will not run in 2023. It offers 15 different leadership and specialist development schemes to university graduates who achieve at least a 2:2.
In 2021 the scheme scooped the Personnel Today Diversity and Inclusion Award and was named the number one graduate employer in The Times Top 100 list for the third year running.
However, at a Cabinet Office meeting earlier this month, the decision was taken to pause the scheme as the government plans to cut 91,000 civil service roles.
Cabinet secretary Simon Case sent a letter to civil servants which acknowledged the job cuts would be “challenging”, but noted that the civil service had grown substantially since 2016.
There were 384,000 civil servants working in 2016, the lowest number since World War Two, but by the end of last year this figure reached 475,000.
The government has not completely ruled out a recruitment freeze or compulsory redundancies in order to reduce staffing levels.
Alex Thomas, programme director at the Institute for Government think-tank, told The Guardian that the decision to pause the graduate scheme “risks cutting off the supply of people who have the digital and project management skills to improve public services”.
“Focusing on headcount reductions rather than budget savings can create perverse incentives, skewing towards losing the cheaper and younger talent rather than making bigger efficiencies elsewhere,” he added.
A former cabinet minister under Theresa May, Sir David Lidington, said the plan was a “very foolish” move, and stated that having “super-bright young officials around the table would challenge” orthodoxy in government departments.
A government spokesperson said that staffing increases to help deal with Brexit and the pandemic must now be reversed.
“Our focus is on having a civil service that has the skills and capabilities to continue delivering outstanding public services,” the spokesperson said. “Which is exactly why we have changed recruitment rules to bring in the very best talent and are investing in the professional development of our people.”