Cabinet Office insistence on SCS pay restraint ‘dodges real issue’

Written by Richard Johnstone on 5 November 2019 in News
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FDA and Prospect unions criticise minister's call for pay recommendations to be "affordable"

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The Cabinet Office’s renewed insistence that the pay review body for senior officials stick to “affordable” salary recommendations “completely misses the real issue”, according to one civil service union.

The FDA has responded to Cabinet Office minister Simon Hart’s call for the Senior Salary Review Body to make recommendations that ensure “public services remain affordable and sustainable in the long term” by saying there was a need to invest in the pay system.

Responding to Hart's remit letter to the SSRB for the 2020 pay round, assistant general secretary Lucille Thirlby said that prioritising affordability “completely misses the real issue regarding pay for the SCS”, which she said was the need to reform the system to focus on long-term outcomes.


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She said that in its 2017 report, the SSRB advised that pay policy should be based on a long-term plan “rather than simply on limiting basic pay increases across the board and then reacting in an ad hoc manner when action becomes unavoidable.”

“However, three years later in its SSRB 2020 remit letter, the government maintains its principle of limiting pay, stating that higher awards are conditional on proposals for workforce reform and productivity increases,” she told CSW.

This is the first year since 2010 that the SSRB’s recommendations will not be informed by a pan-public sector pay policy. Treasury guidance that has frozen pay then capped increases at 1% and then 2% over the last decade has not been replaced with a new policy in the 2019 Spending Round, which increased departmental budgets for 2020-21.

Thirlby said that the government is “fully in control of its SCS workforce, who are working flat out to deliver this government’s objectives”. She added that officials have worked on preparations for three EU exit dates, alongside priority areas of policy in the most difficult of circumstances.

At the beginning of the pay process for senior civil servants, the government provides a series of submissions to the SSRB on its plans for Whitehall pay. The SSRB makes recommendations on increases based on these submissions and on departments' recruitment and retention needs.

Hart’s letter to the SSRB also revealed that the Cabinet Office would make proposals for a “credible” pay progression model for senior civil servants as part of the 2020 pay round as long-pledged plans for pay reform move closer to fruition.

Hart last week confirmed that the government’s evidence, likely to be submitted in December, would focus on “exploring options and making proposals for a credible capability-based salary progression model, which supports productivity".

This is the latest step in the government's drive for SCS pay reform. It has previously set out ambitions for pay to be based on "professional groupings" and for higher specialist pay rates.

Based on the 2018 submission, the progression plan is likely to look at rewarding both general and leadership skills as well as, over time, specialist skills identified by Whitehall professions as important. It will also likely seek to introduce higher specialist pay rates for senior civil servants in finance and digital professions in the first part of an overhaul to set salaries based on specific skills and roles across government.

Thirlby said the 2018 submission represented “warm words from the government that their evidence will focus on a long-overdue process for salary progression, but warm words aren’t enough”.

She added: “The only way to deliver much-needed reform is to invest in the pay system for the SCS and the wider civil service. This is within the government’s gift and ministers must stop passing the buck onto their own workforce to resolve.”

Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham agreed that there is “a long-term structural problem with regards to the lack of pay progression in the civil service”.

He added: “It is a problem that is endemic to both the SCS pay system and pay systems for delegated grades. The review body and successive governments have recognised it as a key issue but have singularly failed to address it. Urgent action needs to be taken.

“The SCS performance management is a mess. It has been for years and it is scandalous that it has not been addressed. No peacetime government has ever been so reliant on its civil service. Investing in it properly would be a wise approach, as opposed to the electoral gimmickry we are likely to see over next number of weeks.”

About the author

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

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