Cuts, churn and 'piecemeal' reward: all the senior civil service reforms the SSRB is calling for beyond a pay rise

While the SSRB said “priority” was an across-the-board pay rise, it highlighted several other pressing issues with pay and reward
Photo: Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

The Senior Salaries Review Body has published its annual recommendations on senior civil servants' pay and reward.

The guidance called for a 3% pay rise for senior civil servants, as well as a 0.5% bump to address anomalies and raise the bottom of the pay scale – advice the Cabinet Office did not take.

But while the SSRB said its “priority” was securing an across-the-board pay increase, it also highlighted several other pressing issues with pay and reward that it said ministers must address.

Concerns about attracting ‘leaders of the right calibre’

"The evidence we have received this year again confirms that, in terms of numbers, the SCS does not have significant recruitment and retention difficulties. However, we remain concerned about whether the SCS is able to attract and retain leaders of the right calibre," the SSRB said.

“Having no vacancies does not imply everything is in order if too many senior staff are not of the right quality,” it warned.

‘Depressing pay damages motivation’

The report follows more than a decade of real-terms pay cuts for both senior civil servants and their more junior colleagues, and the report warns: “Depressing senior pay over very long periods damages motivation and morale and lowers the attractiveness of leadership positions.”

“Moreover, some senior managers are now paid less than those they are responsible for, which is a particular problem in parts of the senior civil service. This can deter applicants from feeder groups from applying for promotion,” it adds. “The cumulative effect of restraining senior pay over long periods distorts incentives at all levels of an organisation.”

‘Piecemeal’ approach to reward is too short term

“We have reservations about the increasingly piecemeal approach towards addressing reward issues,” the report said, nodding to in-year performance awards, end-year performance awards, corporate recognition awards, an range of pivotal role allowances for those leading projects or in digital roles, and the new “milestone-based rewards” the Cabinet Office is working on to incentivise senior officials to stay in their roles for longer.

“Many of these are short-term fixes which broader pay reform would render unnecessary,” the SSRB said.

‘Not clear’ that SCS expansion has improved outcomes

The report reiterates the SSRB’s previous calls for a more strategic approach to the purpose, size and composition of the SCS.

The senior civil service is 70% larger than a decade ago, almost doubling the total paybill – growth the report describes as “reactive, without a strategic focus on SCS priorities and its requisite optimal size”. “Moreover, it is not clear that this expansion has led to a corresponding improvement in the outcomes the SCS is there to achieve. We hope that the forthcoming SCS strategic plan will address these critical issues,” it says.

A ‘more streamlined’ SCS could save money

After nodding to the government’s emphasis on “affordability” of public service pay rises, the SSRB noted “pay is but one component of a budget”. “A significant reduction in numbers would create material savings, some of which could be used to increase pay and incentives for a streamlined, higher-quality SCS,” the report said.

…but job cuts should be approached with caution

The report calls for the government’s efforts to cut 91,000 civil service jobs to include a specific plan for the SCS headcount. The report endorsed the government’s need for a “smaller and more focused SCS”, but said any cuts must focus on “priorities, leadership and the delivery of outcomes”.

“This should include a clear understanding of the purpose of the SCS that can drive strategic workforce decisions,” it adds.

A ‘simple pay progression system’ could address churn

The SSRB said it was “encouraged” by the initial steps the government has taken to address high turnover in senior staff. It has been calling for a “simple” pay progression system for the SCS since 2018, which it has said would address many of these issues with churn. “We are disappointed at the slow implementation of capability-based pay progression, which the government first committed to in 2019,” the advisers added.

New performance management policy 'should be closely monitored'

Earlier this year, Civil Service HR published guidance saying departments would be expected to mark 5% of senior civil servants as underperforming, under an overhauled new “guided distribution” performance-management system.

“Guidance on the proportion of a workforce expected to be partially meeting their objectives can be helpful, but rigid quotas are not appropriate, especially within small cohorts. This new policy should be closely monitored to understand its impact on individuals and the workforce,” the SSRB warned. And while it welcomed the “increased focus on addressing poor performance”, the body said it was “disappointed at the delay in implementation”. 

Read the most recent articles written by Beckie Smith and Tevye Markson - Sunak accused of scapegoating civil servants over defence spending pledge

Share this page