Brexit slows Cabinet Office’s plan to overhaul Civil Service Compensation Scheme
Exclusive: Unions seek to put brake on revised redundancy rules negotiations in wake of EU referendum
The Cabinet Office’s proposals to squeeze further “significant savings” from the Civil Service Compensation Scheme are unlikely to be finalised before September because of the fallout from the European Union referendum, it has emerged.
Negotiations on the changes to the current CSCS redundancy and voluntary exit arrangements, agreed in 2010, had been expected to conclude at the end of July.
But Civil Service World has learned that participating unions have sought to lengthen the talks process to take account of the referendum result and prime minister Theresa May’s new government.
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The FDA, Prospect, the GMB, Unison and the Defence Police Federation wrote to the Cabinet Office calling for the implementation of the programme to be delayed to allow new Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer time to settle into the post and for more certainty about Whitehall’s staffing requirements in the wake of the Brexit vote to emerge.
The Public and Commercial Services Union — Whitehall’s biggest union — is not participating in the negotiations because it refused to accept the Cabinet Office’s parameters for reducing the scheme’s benefits, which were a pre-requisite for a place in the talks.
The parameters, set out in a June letter from civil service workforce strategy and inclusion director Simon Claydon, were cutting payout tariffs to three-weeks wages for every year of service, down from the current one month; reducing the notice period for compulsory redundancy to three months, down from the current six months; and limiting payouts for both “voluntary exit” and “voluntary redundancy” settlements to 15 months salary, down from 21 months.
"A formal offer to the trade unions and a response to the consultation will be published in due course" - Cabinet Office spokesperson
Claydon’s letter also said terms for employer-funded early access to unreduced pension should only be available from age 55, and then track 10 years behind state pension age. Currently, over-50s who were members of civil service pension schemes before 2006 qualify.
Union sources told CSW they believed that the earliest that any revised proposals were likely to go before members would be October and that progress would be dependent on the Treasury's final proposals for capping exit payments across the wider public sector at £95,000.
They said that support for any reduced CSCS package would also require a commitment from government that the new terms would remain in place for considerably longer than the six years the current package has remained in place for, and an improved redeployment offer to help staff move to new opportunities in the civil service.
A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said: “Discussions about the Civil Service Compensation Scheme are ongoing with unions. A formal offer to the trade unions and a response to the consultation will be published in due course."
"Hands tied behind their back"
FDA general secretary Dave Penman said the latest proposals for the CSCS were unjustified and part of a “broader agenda” to reduce and equalise terms across the public sector.
But he sought to explain why his union had agreed to participate in talks with the government, a decision that has come in for criticism from PCS.
"Further improvements will be required in order to reach any final agreement" - FDA general secretary Dave Penman
“FDA believes that sufficient progress had been made in [the] negotiations to continue with further discussions, and recognises that it has a clear responsibility to continue to influence the negotiations and protect, as far as is possible, the redundancy terms in the civil service,” he said.
“This can only be done by being party to these negotiations. Further improvements will be required in order to reach any final agreement.”
Meanwhile, Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, said his organisation had been "highly critical of the government's position", and said the decision to revisit the deal agreed in 2010 "smacks of bad faith and a disdain for civil servants".
But he too defended his union's decision to negotiation with the Cabinet Office.
"Our job as a union is to deal with the world as it is, not just how we would wish it to be," Graham said. "We are negotiating hard, pressing the case on behalf our members. You cannot do that if you're not at the table."
“It is not a genuine negotiation if one side goes in with their hands tied behind their back, and it's incredibly disappointing that unions that represent a minority of civil servants appear to have agreed to this" - PCS union spokesperson
He added: "Prospect is negotiating alongside Unison, the GMB, the FDA and the DPF. There is no way we would paint ourselves in a corner and not be at the table. Our job is to negotiate as hard as we can on behalf of our members no matter how trying the circumstances."
"If some other unions spent as much time and energy on this issue as they do campaigning for a political leader of a party they are not even affiliated to, their members may be better served."
A PCS spokesman said it was “frankly outrageous” for the Cabinet Office to have attached conditions to joining the talks.
“It is not a genuine negotiation if one side goes in with their hands tied behind their back, and it's incredibly disappointing that unions that represent a minority of civil servants appear to have agreed to this,” he said.
“We saw in the pensions dispute how damaging it is to civil servants' terms and conditions to have some unions peeling away from a united position."
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