Up to 3,000 people may be recruited by the government next year to replace those who took voluntary retirement with hefty compensation payouts five years ago, Secretary for the Civil Service Denise Yue Chung-yee said. But the move has aroused concern from the business-affiliated Liberal Party, which said the administration should not be expanded because of an improving financial situation. With persistent budget deficits in past years, the government rolled out lucrative compensation packages in stages to attract civil servants into retiring early. About 5,300 joined the final phase of the voluntary retirement scheme, leaving in 2003. At the Legislative Council public service panel meeting yesterday, Ms Yue said the five-year recruitment freeze on 229 grades under the final phase would expire in March. Although she said she had no information on the total number of recruits planned by government departments, she believed the numbers would be in the thousands. 'I reckon there would be considerable number ... It wouldn't be surprising if some 2,000 to 3,000 people are eventually recruited.' Ms Yue said it was important that the government recruited new blood to avoid succession problems. The recruits would fill lower to middle ranks and be spread across dozens of grades. Of the 229 grades, recruitment to 76 required special approval from the Civil Service Bureau because they were either forecast to have a staff surplus or the jobs were already obsolete, she said. Liberal Party legislator Howard Young, who chairs the public service panel, expressed concern over the recruitment figures. 'My initial reaction is that 2,000 to 3,000 may be too high. It accounts for half the number in the last batch of voluntary retirements,' he said after the meeting. He said new recruits were justified only if there were new demand. 'I certainly hope that the government will continue to exercise maximum restraint in recruitment even though public revenue has significantly improved,' he said.