Boris Johnson has tasked ministers with cutting about 90,000 public service jobs to free up money for measures to ease the cost-of-living crisis with potential tax cuts.
The prime minister reportedly told his cabinet on Thursday that the service should be reduced by a fifth.
Johnson made the demand during a day out with ministers in Stoke-on-Trent as his government is under intense pressure to ease the pain of rising prices.
Sources familiar with the talks said he told ministers to return public service to 2016 levels in the coming years. Their numbers were said to have grown by 2016 since then to 475,000 full-time equivalent jobs.
The prime minister told the Daily Mail: “We have to cut the cost of government to reduce the cost of living.”
He suggested that the billions saved could be used for tax cuts, saying, “Every pound the government takes from the taxpayer is money they can spend on their own priorities, on their own lives.”
Sources did not deny that the sweeping public job cut could be used for future tax cuts. A government spokesperson said: “The prime minister and ministers are confident that the public service does an excellent job for the public and drives progress on government priorities.
“But when people and businesses across the country face rising costs, the public rightly expects their government to lead by example and be as efficient as possible.”