The government could cut as many as 90,000 Civil Service jobs in a cost-saving exercise touted by Boris Johnson, as ministers come under increasing pressure to help ease the cost-of-living crisis with possible tax cuts.
The prime minister was understood to have told his Cabinet on Thursday that the workforce should be cut by a fifth, which a report said would save more than £3bn.
The plan was discussed with Cabinet colleagues on Thursday at an away-day in Stoke-on-Trent.
Sources familiar with the conversations said he told ministers to return the Civil Service to its 2016 levels in the coming years.
Staffing levels have increased since then as the impact of Brexit across government and public life increased the need for civil servants.
But Mr Johnson told the Daily Mail: “We have got to cut the cost of government to reduce the cost of living.”
He said the billions it would reportedly save could be used for tax cuts: “Every pound the government pre-empts from the taxpayer is money they can spend on their own priorities, on their own lives.”
However the move risks igniting a war between the government, civil servants and the unions that represent them.
Last month, Mr Johnson backed Jacob Rees-Mogg‘s policy of leaving ominous notes on the desks of civil servants who work from home.
The government efficiency minister was criticised by unions after it emerged he had left “crass” and “condescending” messages for officials who were not at their desks.
Last year, Mr Johnson established a new No 10 delivery unit designed to override civil servants while attempting to speed up the delivery of flagship policies.
A government spokeswoman said: “The PM and ministers are clear that the civil service does an outstanding job delivering for the public and driving progress on the government’s priorities.
“But when people and businesses across the country are facing rising costs, the public rightly expect their government to lead by example and run as efficiently as possible.”