Civil service pay: unions seek “negotiated multi-year settlement” amid Brexit row
Brexiteers react with fury to Senior Salaries Review Body submission that suggests implementing EU referendum result is pushing Whitehall to its limits
The FDA and Prospect unions have called on the government to ditch its ongoing 1% pay cap on civil service salaries and negotiate a new multi-year deal with senior staff to address pay anomalies with lower grades and “extremely low” morale.
Their latest submission to the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) also calls for the introduction of more centralised control of senior civil service workforce policy, and an end to the practice of capping salaries for internal promotions, potentially resulting in a lower salary than external candidates could obtain.
However, the unions’ suggestion that the new pressures placed on Whitehall resources by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union strengthened the case for an SCS pay rise immediately enraged pro-Brexit MPs.
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The FDA and Prospect said the creation of the Department for Exiting the European Union alone had drawn 250 predominantly SCS staff away from other departments, without confirmation that their former posts had been back-filled, and called for “realism on resourcing” that took the “major challenge” of Brexit into account.
The unions said their principal request for a pay rise above the 1% level was driven by a recognition that some members of the SCS had not received a consolidated pay rise for more than five years, and cited survey results indicating that just under one-third of officials in SCS band 1 managed non-SCS staff who earned more than them.
Their SSRB submission did not indicate ballpark salary-rise expectations, but FDA general secretary Dave Penman said senior civil servants had seen their pay cut by around one-quarter in real terms over recent years.
"Headcount reductions alongside a tsunami of work emanating from Brexit is leading to rocketing workloads and plummeting morale" – Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham
The FDA and Prospect said that members who actually received pay rises did so because they were being “paid demonstrably below the rate for their grade”, and warned that a lack of opportunity for staff to progress through pay-scales meant many were “simply waiting for the pay band minima to catch them”.
The unions added that centralising the SCS workforce policy would be key for boosting coordination, flexibility and commitment among the highest grades, but stressed such that a move would involve raising minimum pay levels in some departments.
Penman said the survey included in the SSRB submission threw new perspective on the unions’ arguments, and called on chancellor Philip Hammond to ditch predecessor George Osborne’s Whitehall pay restraint policies.
"Fresh from reducing the size of their departments, the SCS is now tasked with implementing Brexit on top of all of the government's existing priorities,” he said.
“To quote one [FDA] member, ‘…the country needs a civil service that is optimistic, energised, proud, confident and ambitious – what we have is a senior civil service that is thoroughly dispirited and demotivated.’
“The strain of the pay freeze and staff reductions is taking its toll. The previous chancellor's policy of public sector pay restraint has led to a demoralised workforce and a civil service now reliant on expensive contractors and salary premiums for new hires.
“This chancellor needs to take a more realistic position and heed the FDA's call for real investment in the SCS, not a never ending series of temporary fixes dreamt up on the hoof that end up being a costing the public more than before the pay restraint began.”
That view was echoed by Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, who said pay levels for senior officials "continue to fall dramatically behind their private sector comparators to the extent that the Cabinet Office no longer contests the issue".
He added: "Headcount reductions alongside a tsunami of work emanating from Brexit is leading to rocketing workloads and plummeting morale."
Graham called for a "more sophisticated approach towards pay and reward across the whole of the civil service" to ensure it could attract staff with specialist skills, warning: "The arbitrary and crude approach taken by the Treasury is unsustainable if the civil service is to recruit, retain and motivate the skilled staff it needs at both SCS level and below."
“Senior civil servants should be embarrassed that their union is asking for a pay rise at a time when the entire public sector is subject to necessary pay restraint" – Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith
But former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith was particularly critical of the suggestion that civil servants deserved a pay rise for dealing with Brexit.
“Senior civil servants should be embarrassed that their union is asking for a pay rise at a time when the entire public sector is subject to necessary pay restraint,” he told the Daily Mail. “They should be relishing the challenge – and the best ones will be.”
Fellow backbench Conservative Steve Baker, who earlier this year called for civil servants to be "summarily fired" if they challenged Brexit, told the paper that civil servants already seemed “well rewarded” in comparison to the wider public.
The survey data included in the joint FDA and Prospect SSRB submission found 94% of senior civil servants said their current reward framework was not fit for purpose, while more than one-quarter said they wanted to leave the civil service as soon as possible.
Just one-fifth of civil servants said they believed their department had sufficient resources to meet the demands of the year ahead.
Eighty-five percent of respondents said they worked unpaid overtime that effectively amounted to an extra day at the office every week.
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