Dave Penman and Mike Clancy: Covid-19 means a single pay settlement for the whole civil service is in the national interest

The civil service does not need the distraction of over 200 separate pay negotiations in the middle of a pandemic, argue the general secretaries of the FDA and Prospect unions

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In these most extraordinary of extraordinary times, no civil servant has been untouched by the consequences of Covid-19. Hundreds of thousands are responding directly, supporting the healthcare emergency and its immediate consequences. Over 75% of the service is working from home and for those that are not, many are delivering frontline services in exceptional circumstances. 

There isn’t a department, agency or arms-length body untouched by the challenge and we have witnessed extraordinary feat after extraordinary feat, rapidly changing priorities, coping with unprecedented surges in demand, creating new systems and policies and at the same time transforming the entire organisation to a mainly home-based structure. 

The civil service, as it has always done, has responded remarkably to the challenge the country faces, delivering and supporting vital public services. This achievement was delivered, almost unimaginably, in a few short weeks, but we know that the challenge from Covid-19 will be with us for many more months to come. Sustaining this incredible effort and dealing with the consequences of the changes in priorities, with many workstreams put on hold temporarily, will consume the service for the remainder of 2020 and beyond. 


At this time of national emergency, the last thing the civil service needs is the distraction of a business-as-usual pay round. The civil service pay system involves over 200 separate bargaining arrangements, all-consuming valuable resource from managers, unions and members. Both unions are highly critical of this structure in terms of process and outcomes, but that is an argument for another day. As the service copes with this national public health emergency, we have written to the minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, asking him to exceptionally agree to a single, simple fair outcome for all civil servants in 2020. 

As unions supporting committed public servants, we have sought to do everything we can to assist our members in responding to the pandemic. In Scotland we have agreed an interim award of 3% to be paid in May, alongside other public servants, recognising the extraordinary circumstances the public sector is facing. We strongly believe that a single fair solution to pay, with exceptions for those who are undertaking or about to undertake major pay reform, would be a major contribution in freeing up valuable resources across the service at a time of greatest need.  

We understand that there will be many complexities to be resolved and there will be concerns that this will set a precedent. If the last few weeks have demonstrated anything, it is that with the right focus and leadership, obstacles that many in other times would have thought insurmountable, have been swept away in a matter of days. We strongly believe that now is the time for that focus and leadership to sweep away any ideological objections and to recognise that a single pay settlement for the entire civil service would be in the national interest. 

We want to be clear, this is not about special treatment. It is about putting the interests of the civil service first at a time when it needs it most. That is why, exceptionally, we have come together as strong, forward thinking unions to call on the minister to work with us on this issue and send the clearest possible signal that civil servants are being valued for their extraordinary efforts and that everything possible will be done to support them.

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