The civil service’s biggest union has accused ministers of being “insulting and misleading” in their response to a petition calling for all government workers to get a 10% pay rise this year in recognition of efforts to fight Covid-19 and the impact of a decade of sub-inflation awards.
PCS’s petition went live on the official UK Government and Parliament website in July and gathered 10,000 signatures – enough to require an official response – within three days. Three months later, the official response has come through rejecting the core pay demand.
The union now says a parliamentary debate on the issues the petition raised is needed so that they can be properly considered.
The government’s official response to the petition came from the Cabinet Office and notes civil servants’ “remarkable commitment” to keeping the public safe in during the pandemic. But it goes on to stress the need to “balance rewarding civil servants for their hard work with providing value for money to the taxpayer” so that public services can continue to be delivered.
The Cabinet Office said data for May this year showed public-sector pay was “up by 3.7% on the year before, compared to a fall of 1.2% in the private sector”, but it did not cite a source for the figures or claim this was reflective of the civil service.
It said this financial year’s public-sector pay awards, including those of civil servants, would be “significantly more than the average in the private sector”, where the Office for Budget Responsibility’s central scenario assumed a fall.
The Cabinet Office said civil-service pay remit guidance allowed departments to make pay awards between 1.5% and 2.5%, and that departments had “additional flexibility” to go beyond the limits in exchange for plans to improve workforce productivity. It also pointed to departments’ ability to offer non-consolidated pay rises to their “best performers”.
PCS said the response was “insulting and misleading” and that a decade of austerity meant thousands of civil servants had seen their pay drop by 20% in real terms. It said many union members had to rely on top-ups from benefits.
“The reply offers recognition of the great work UK government workers have done in delivering public services in the most difficult circumstances for generations but defends the government's derisory financial reward,” it said.
“There is an emphasis on departments having ‘additional flexibility’ to go beyond the limits set out by submission of a business case to the Cabinet Office and the Treasury in exchange for plans to improve workforce productivity.
“But this in reality means workers sacrificing their hard-won terms and conditions in return for short-term gain.”
PCS added that departments’ ability to offer non-consolidated rises to some staff “falls foul of favouritism and compounds inequality”.
The union called for a further push to get its petition past the 100,000-signature level by its January deadline – a move that would result in the issue of fair pay for civil servants and other government workers being debated in parliament. The petition currently has just over 59,000 signatures.
Elsewhere in its response letter, the Cabinet Office called on departmental and agency staff to consider their “total reward” package and pointed to the generosity of the Civil Service Pension Scheme.
Ministers said a controversial pause imposed on cost-control elements of the pension scheme following 2018’s Court of Appeal ruling in the McCloud case was due to come to an end.
“HM Treasury will set out how the cost of providing the additional member benefits required to remedy the age discrimination should be taken into account in the cost control element of the valuations process,” it said.
“The government will then consider how best to take forward the outcome of the 2016 cost cap for civil service pensions once the detail of these is known.”
PCS said the pause placed on cost-control measures in the scheme meant members’ contributions had been 2% higher than they should have been for almost two years.
It added that the government’s response “hinted” that more money would need to be found to pay for the pension scheme.
When the pause was introduced, then-chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss said the McCloud ruling could have an annual impact of £4bn for public sector pensions.