Civil service pay: Inflationary rises ‘not an option’, says Dowden

Cabinet Office minister salutes coronation and Sudan efforts as MP complains he was “trolled” by departmental staffer
Oliver Dowden in parliament yesterday

By Jim Dunton

12 May 2023

Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden has insisted that genuine cost-of-living pay rises for civil servants are not an option, at a time when inflation is 10.1% and departments have been instructed to keep average pay rises at 4.5%.

Dowden was last month made deputy prime minister following the resignation of Dominic Raab. Yesterday he was asked in parliament what is being done to ensure that civil servants do not have to go on strike to get the fair wages they deserve.

The question came from the SNP’s Alison Thewliss, who said she had spoken to striking members of the PCS union on a Glasgow picket line earlier in the week. She said the civil servants told her they were striking to protect public services and halt the “erosion in pay and conditions” seen over many years.

Dowden referred to last month’s 2023-24 pay remit guidance, issued to departments by the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury, which instructed departments to limit pay increases to an average of 4.5%, but added a 0.5% uplift for the lowest paid.

“Remember that this is devolved to each individual government department,” Dowden told MPs. “Of course, I do not dispute for a moment the challenges that people face as a result of the war in Ukraine pushing up inflation around the world, and that is why we have taken action across the board.

“However, I would say that we cannot allow inflation-busting pay rises, the only effect of which will be to make it harder to meet our target of halving inflation and to make every single person in this country – public and private sector – poorer.”

Last month’s settlement guidance, which came on top of the disputed 2022-23 award worth up to 3%, outraged the civil service’s main unions.

PCS, which is the largest union force in the civil service, said the offer was “insulting” and would lead to industrial action being stepped up. Prospect announced two additional strike dates.

Civil service leaders’ union the FDA decided to ballot its members on strike action as a result of the proposed settlement. While its members in the Senior Civil Service are subject to a different pay-setting process, the 4.5% tabled sets a benchmark for the best rise those higher-ranking officials are likely to receive.

All three unions noted the absence of a non-consolidated cost-of-living rise for civil servants in the deal, in contrast to better offers made to teachers and National Health Service staff.

Minutes after his pay response, Dowden went on to praise the work of civil servants and members of the Armed Forces who coordinated the evacuation of British nationals from Sudan in recent weeks, and the multi-agency work to deliver last weekend’s coronation.

MP accuses civil servant of “trolling” him

At the same session of Cabinet Office questions in parliament yesterday, a south London Conservative MP claimed he had been “trolled” by a civil servant using their work e-mail account.

Elliot Colburn, who represents the Carshalton and Wallington constituency, said he believed the principle of civil service impartiality was important.

“I was therefore surprised to receive a set of trolling emails from someone using their civil service email address,” he said. “Could the minister outline whether that is acceptable?”

Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin said he would “happily” look into Colburn’s complaint if the MP was prepared to share further  details.

“It is very important that the impartiality of the civil service is maintained at every level,” he said.

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