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MP Penny Mordaunt and Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss attend a hustings event, part of the Conservative leadership campaign, in Exeter, Britain, on August 1, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

London: Liz Truss vowed to slash “waste, bureaucracy and inefficiency” in the civil service to save billions of pounds a year for the British taxpayer if she becomes UK prime minister.

The foreign secretary, the front-runner in the race with Rishi Sunak to succeed Boris Johnson, said late Monday that she’ll align the pay of public sector workers to living costs in the regions where they live. She also pledged to slash holiday allowances and cut diversity officers in the civil service, according to a statement from her campaign.

The anti-waste measures - which Truss said would save £11 billion ($13.5 billion) a year — are designed to shore up her support on the right of the ruling Conservative Party on the day ballot papers were sent out to party members. She’s vying with Sunak for their votes, and has presented herself as the low-tax candidate who’ll challenge the “orthodoxy” within the civil service, in particular the Treasury.

But while Truss’s campaign won a boost late Monday when she received the endorsement of former leadership rival Penny Mordaunt, her latest policy prompted concern from Conservative Members of Parliament who said it would result in a loss of investment in rural and regional economies — a reversal of the current Tory government’s election promise to “level up” economic opportunity across the country.

Truss’s proposals slammed

Steve Double, an MP representing a district in southwestern England, tweeted that it was a “terrible idea” and “hugely damaging to public services in Cornwall” where he said the National Health Service already struggles to recruit staff. Another MP from the region, Gary Streeter, called Truss’s proposals “disastrous,” while James Cartlidge, who represents a constituency in eastern England, questioned whether it meant police officers and the military in his area would earn less than those in London.

Ben Houchen, the influential Tory mayor for the Tees Valley in northeast England, said on Twitter that he was “actually speechless.”

Truss’s campaign estimated the regional pay policy could eventually save £8.8 billion a year by using regional pay boards to set public sector salaries taking into account the cost of living in their areas. The policy would only apply to new contracts, and would be carried out in consultation with unions and workers, according to the statement.

The opposition Labour Party condemned the plan, saying it amounted to leveling down. Truss is “promising a race to the bottom on public sector workers’ pay and rights,” Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said in a statement. “Her ‘tailored’ pay plans would level down the pay of Northerners, worsening the divide which already exists. This out-of-touch government’s commitment to leveling up is dead.”

Amid the growing threat of strikes by professions including teachers and doctors, Truss also plans to eliminate provisions that mean taxpayers pay for public sector workers to take time off in order to engage in official trade union activities, including organizing strikes. She estimated the ban on “facility time” will save as much as £137 million a year.

Truss popular among party grassroots

“There is too much bureaucracy and stale group-think in Whitehall,” Truss said in the statement. “If I make it into Downing Street, I will put an end to that.”

The endorsement of Mordaunt, who like Truss is popular among the Tory party grassroots, is a boost to the foreign secretary, who was already the clear favorite to win the leadership runoff with Sunak. Mordaunt came third in the contest, narrowly losing out to Truss in a vote among Tory MPs to determine the final two candidates to put forward to the wider party membership to decide.

“Who most embodies the vision and values the British public had in their heads and their hearts when they voted in 2016 and 2019?” Mordaunt said at a party hustings in Exeter on Monday evening. “That is Liz Truss.”

But there was also a boost for Sunak when a poll by Techne suggested the gap may be narrowing with Truss. The survey of Conservative supporters put Truss on 48% and the former chancellor on 43%. While he’s still trailing, it’s a marked improvement on a previous survey by YouGov — specifically among Tory Party members — that gave the foreign secretary a 24-point lead.