Civil service unions call for "one-off" payrise as senior officials vent frustrations

Written by Matt Foster on 26 January 2016 in News

FDA and Prospect urge the Senior Salaries Review Body to back a front-loaded 4% payrise and warn of "divisive" attempts to boost the pay of only a limited number of specialists

Senior civil servants should be given a "one-off" boost to their pay in order to combat widespread morale, recruitment and retention problems, unions have said.

Public sector pay was frozen for two years in 2010 as part of the Treasury's programme of austerity, with annual rises since 2012 capped at an average of 1%. Chancellor George Osborne announced last summer that the 1% cap would remain in place for at least another four years, while all departments have also now moved to end automatic time-served progression rises.

But, in a joint submission to the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) – which provides independent advice to government on the pay levels needed to recruit and retain senior public sector staff – the FDA and Prospect trade unions warn of the toll that the government's approach is taking on the senior civil service (SCS).

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An online survey of SCS members from both unions found that 92% of respondents were dissatisfied with overall pay arrangements in the senior ranks, with 56% saying they were "very dissatisfied". Concerns about pay also appeared to be more widespread among those recruited from outside the civil service, with two-thirds of external recruits saying they were "very dissatisfied" with overall SCS pay arrangements. 

Meanwhile, more than half (56%) of those asked said they were aware of recruitment difficulties in their organisation, with 59% saying retaining staff was a problem. More than two-thirds (70%) of respondents said they had seriously considered leaving the civil service in the last year. 

While plans are being drawn up to introduce new pay bands for commercial and digital specialists, and while the Treasury currently grants some flexibility to departments to address recruitment and retention problems by re-allocating funds within their overall paybill, both unions express concern about ad-hoc exceptions to wider pay policy.

They say that small-scale interventions are proving "divisive", and are coming at the expense of an "holistic" and "transparent" approach to pay reform.

"Last year's government evidence [to the SSRB] acknowledged that there is an issue with the ability of the civil service to 'recruit key staff of the right calibre'," the submission says.

"The only solution government seems to have developed in the intervening period is to bypass the conventional pay framework and start again, as it has in the attempt to recruit 25 senior commercial specialists."

The unions add: "The decision to give special treatment to one particular area of recruitment when many others: tax experts, specialist laywers and scientific specialists, for example, are also facing chronic issues in recruiting and retaining the right skills and experience, has caused suspicion and frustration in those areas. Where alternative remuneration arrangements are developed in isolation, we believe there is a genuine reason to be concerned."

The survey also found that almost a third of SCS respondents (30.9%) were earning less than some staff that they were line-managing, a situation the unions warn is "now a fixture of the pay system".

According to the civil service's own annual people survey, published in November, there has been a slight year-on-year rise in the proportion of officials expressing satisfaction with their pay and benefits, shifting from 28% to 30%.

But pay remains by far the area where civil service staff engagement scores are lowest, with just a quarter of officials in the organisation's own survey saying they believe their pay is "reasonable" when compared to people doing a similar job in outside organisations.

"Fundamental review"

The FDA and Prospect urge the SSRB – whose recommendations the Treasury is not required to accept – to back a "one-off realignment award" for civil servants, which they say could be done within the existing framework of pay restraint.

"Given the decision to maintain the current pay bill cap for four years, we suggest that this is managed through a multi-year pay award enabling the civil service to mitigate some of the problems in the system. The continued economic climate of negligible inflation lends itself to this approach where the 4% over four years could be deployed at the start of the four years rather than being equally divided across each year.

"While government may wish to retain a non-consolidated pot for performance awards made on an annual basis, the consolidated pot could be merged allowing a higher up-front payment to address some of the issues members and commentators routinely highlight."

Publishing the unions' submission, FDA general secretary Dave Penman said it was time for a "fundamental review of the SCS pay system".

He added: "When MPs’ pay was realigned last year, the prime minister himself said: ‘Personally I think the right thing to do is to be paid the rate for the job.’ If that applies to MPs then it has to apply to civil servants.”

The SSRB's latest recommendations are expected to be published in the spring.

About the author

Matt Foster is online editor of Civil Service World. He tweets as @CSWDepEd

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Spence (not verified)

Submitted on 26 January, 2016 - 13:13
These discussions bring to mind the actions taken by McChrystal to create Team of Teams - "Management thinker Gary Hamel writes that companies now find themselves in "ecosystems" and "value webs" over which they exert almost no control, giving them little ability to predict or plan their own destinies. In such settings, the ritual of strategic planning, which assumes "the future will be more or less like the present," is more hindrance than help. This was exactly what we were finding with the institutional strictures - planning routines and an organizational structure and culture firmly embedded in the notion of predictive mastery - that governed the Task Force. Our complicated solutions were flailing in a newly complex environment. The inevitable outcome of this approach is perhaps best summarized by Henry Mintzberg, author of The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning: "Setting oneself on a predetermined course in unknown waters is the perfect way to sail straight into an iceberg." There are other options to consider that will drive improved value.

Anon (not verified)

Submitted on 26 January, 2016 - 16:02
I see that Sir Humpry is live and well.

Anonymous (not verified)

Submitted on 26 January, 2016 - 13:17
This is a critical issue for the Service. The issue is becoming very divisive and it is ridiculous that SCS are finding themselves with increasing responsibility and accountability and yet, in an increasing number of cases, earning less than the staff they lead. There is senior flight in some parts of the service for instance in digital with many of the GDS names going to external organisations, and finance, with 3 senior FDs resigning for external roles in as many months. We will soon find ourselves losing more and more talent to those organisations who will pay unless we grip the issue.

Lee Davison (not verified)

Submitted on 26 January, 2016 - 13:20
What about none SCS civil servants? A 1% pay rise for 9 years just isn't right.

Anonymous (not verified)

Submitted on 26 January, 2016 - 13:44
Most if not all civil servants, inlcuding SCS struggle with a 1% pay rise. As the pension contributions increase wipes this out straight away. There is no pay increase!

William (not verified)

Submitted on 26 January, 2016 - 14:20
A 4% pay rise to senior Civil Servants - that is guarenteed to increase the morale of their staff.

Cassandra (not verified)

Submitted on 26 January, 2016 - 14:31
Current arrangements are "divisive" let's give the people at the top a pay boost. Get a grip! It's not the Generals' pay which wins battles - ultimately it's the efforts of the footsoldiers. And some of ours can't afford decent housing. And when is the penny eventually going to drop that lack of "talent" is not the problem? There is a lot of talent in the Civil Service. It is being consistently sidelined and suppressed by HR policies which are designed to select for box-tickers and process freaks. And even when genuine talent is brought in at the top it usually assesses the environment in which it finds itself, realises you can't kick an elephant to death by yourself, and settles for creating a couple of CV boxes, ticking them, and departing pdq. The Service is in terminal decline, aided by government policies which make it clear that its servants are of no value whatsoever, have no perceived "talent" (unlike the private sector), and are to be made the whipping boys for every financial catastrophe - including that arising from that motherlode of "talent" - the financial services sector.


Submitted on 26 January, 2016 - 15:55
Succinct & well said. If only our SCS were as vociferous on our behalf as they are on their own.

cynicalcivilservant (not verified)

Submitted on 27 January, 2016 - 16:06
Beautifully put Cassandra. It's not just the SCS that's suffering from the anti public sector mentality of this, and previous governments. There are some great people in the Civil Service, whose talents have been taken for granted, and whose goodwill has been abused for years. When, as is happening, a lot of these people finally leave because of the way they've been treated......... It wasn't civil servants that brought about the financial crisis, was it but those shining stars of private sector "talent", bankers.

J Simpson (not verified)

Submitted on 26 January, 2016 - 15:35
A senior Civil Servant said with a straight face to his minions that he was 'in it with us', because the SCS had only had a 1% pay rise as well. Clearly he thought we were all daft, because we hadn't missed the fact that the pay minima for the SCS had been substantially raised in one go (when no-one outside of the SCS got that, quite the opposite with pay progression stopped) and the SCS get bonuses of £thousands. So, another local manager said to us minions when we complained about pay 'be proud to serve the public and if you don't like it, leave'. There are plenty of talented people in the Civil Service and if some of the decisions taken by top brass in recent years is anything to go by, there are plenty that could make a better job of it. As ever, move the jobs to cheaper areas - why is this never addressed. Let the moaners get other jobs in London and let those talented people who would be glad of such good pay be recruited from other areas of the UK. Is it austerity for all or not?

Ells Mum (not verified)

Submitted on 27 January, 2016 - 08:21
I have read the comments with interest as they have quite rightly said 1% payrises for 9 years are wiped out by increaseing deductions from our wage. This is not a SCS issue this is a civil service issue. Moral is at an all time low, recruitment of bright young things who get training that is not offered to long timers who then rise through the ranks and clear off when all the money has been invested. Anyone who has been trained thinks long and hard about staying as they can earn 3 or 4 times the wage outside. It is a miracle anyone stays.

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