General election ‘will increase stress on civil service’, union warns

Written by Richard Johnstone on 19 April 2017 in News

Prospect calls for end to 1% pay cap as well as independent review of Whitehall wage levels

Theresa May’s call for a general election on 8 June will add to the strain on the civil service, according to a Whitehall trade union.

Reacting to the prime minister’s announcement of a snap poll, Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said the next government would need to “pick up the challenges of Brexit once the election is over”.

Theresa May announces plan for general election on 8 June
Treasury faces renewed calls to end 1% pay cap
Public sector 1% pay cap "has not hit civil service recruitment quality"

He added that the civil service has been treated like a “political football” for too long, and low pay and long hours were now the hallmark of jobs in Whitehall.

“The calling of a snap general election will only add to the strain on the civil service,” Graham said.

There is “increasing concern” about the capacity of the civil service to meet the challenges it faces and the ability of the civil service to build the skilled workforce it needs, he said.

“All governments are, to some extent, reliant on the civil service, but this will never be truer than the administration picking up the challenges of Brexit once the election is over. If politicians will the policy ends, they must also will the means to deliver. A well-resourced civil service with the skills needed is more vital than ever – as well as a civil service that is able to compete with the private sector for skills and expertise.”

In order to provide these resources, the next government should end the 1% pay cap for public sector workers, as well as undertake an independent review of pay levels as well as an examination of the resources and skills needed in Whitehall.

Speaking this morning on the impact the election would have in Whitehall, former cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell said the Brexit negotiations “weren’t really going very far” given the upcoming elections in France this month and Germany in September. “Actually, I don’t think we’re going to lose much time, and the real political decisions come much later post the German elections. There’s a lot of work for the civil servants to do to work out negotiating position – and what is a bad deal or no deal – and they’ll just carry on with that," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme.

MPs are set to vote on the motion to call a general election put forward by prime minister Theresa May under the Fixed Term Parliament Act later today. The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have all said they will vote for the motion, which would provide May with the two-thirds needed under the legislation for the election to take place on 8 June.

Once this is confirmed, a dissolution date will be set for parliament, as well as the start of the purdah period during which there are restrictions on the work of government and the civil service, including use of public resources and long-term decisions and contracts. This usually begins when parliament is dissolved, which is likely to be Wednesday 3 May, but it has been speculated that the pre-election period could begin as soon as Friday.

About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy editor and tweets as @RichRJohnstone

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