Civil servants have reacted angrily after news their jobs are under threat was leaked to the media before they were told.
Workers in Whitehall departments’ communications teams went on the offensive in a call with media boss Alex Aiken.
Mr Aiken apologised “for the way you learnt about these proposed changes” in a heated briefing, Sky News has learnt.
But he confirmed redundancies may be needed given Downing Street wants all government departments to have 30 staff or “preferably fewer” dealing with journalists.
“I recognise it has hurt people and I’m sorry about that, and I will work hard to regain your trust,” the executive director for government communications said.
He confirmed meetings with human resources bosses will commence from Wednesday, with the plans for removing many civil service jobs agreed by Christmas and rolled out by March 2021.
“If we need a redundancy scheme… then I suspect we will put that in place – but we are not in that place yet,” he said in a bid to reassure staff.
But the announcement went down poorly with civil servants on the call.
One staff member told him it was “completely tone deaf” while another attacked the “shockingly poor comms”.
“This looks entirely political,” a third said.
A fourth voiced incredulity that the order was coming “from a PM who bumbles his way through every media appearance – that’s not political, that’s fact”.
A fifth person on the call asked: “Most times we have ministers that do not listen to our ideas… Why are we paying the high price for their lack of understanding?”
Mr Aiken had explained the plan to switch to a so-called “single-employer model” where all staff are managed by the Cabinet Office rather than their individual departments was originally agreed in 2017 – but postponed because of that year’s election – and has been picked back up by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
He claimed the move will lead to “fewer, better, cross government campaigns” – coupled with the start of a televised Downing Street briefing that marks a “fundamental and radical change”.
Civil servants who are laid off will be given “due warning” and there will be attempts to move them to other roles in the civil service, he added.
Gary Graham, deputy head of the Prospect union that represents civil servants, told Sky News he had “never seen part of government act in such a chaotic and cack-handed way”.
He added: “The approach is crass and insensitive. Our members have been working tirelessly to support the country and keep the public informed through this pandemic – and this is how they get rewarded?
“Members are obviously concerned about their jobs and careers – but they are also concerned for the citizens and stakeholders they serve and the organisations they currently work for.
“The leaked media stories, centralisation and snap announcement reek of low politics and headline chasing.
“The chaotic approach taken has not only destroyed the confidence of staff but also risks damaging the public’s trust in the communications they receive from government.”
Sky News invited the Cabinet Office to comment but none was received.