Garry Graham: Budget pay betrayal for civil servants

Philip Hammond’s decision to not set out plans to lift the pay cap for civil servants has placed the government on a collision course with its own staff

Photo: PA

By Garry Graham

22 Nov 2017

Civil servants looking to the Budget to provide a glimmer of hope on pay will have been bitterly disappointed by the chancellor’s statement as part of the Budget. Carefully crafted phrases over the past number of months – which signalled vague assurances that the government was listening on the issue of public sector pay and that the 1% cap was to be lifted – look more like a strategy to kick the can down the road than a new approach to pay and reward for the public sector.

Prospect presented evidence yesterday to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and used it as an opportunity to argue for proper resourcing of the civil service and a fair deal for staff on pay. We highlighted the increasing gulf between pay in the private and the public sector pay – making the point that whilst ministers laud the private sector, no reputable employer in the private sector would treat their staff in this way and expect it to pave the route to corporate success. Prospect also highlighted independent work commissioned by government which points to the fact that not only was pay lagging behind the private sector but so too was the “total reward package” including pensions.

Working in the public services is now becoming synonymous with low pay and long hours working. The most recent Civil Service People Survey, published last week, should give ministers reason for real concern and be a spur to action. Three quarters of staff believe that they would be better rewarded doing similar jobs elsewhere, almost a third do not have a good work-life balance and almost a quarter of staff indicate that they wish to leave their organisation either immediately or in the next twelve months.

It is clear to most commentators that the current policy of pay restraint is not sustainable and many public sector organisations are reporting problems in recruiting and retaining the skilled workforce that they need. The prime minister has thanked public sector workers for the sacrifices that they have made, but staff need action not platitudes.

Prospect is seeking urgent meetings with the Cabinet Office and the Treasury alongside fellow unions. Elsewhere the government has stated that the 1% cap for the public sector is to be lifted but the budget provided no evidence of this. There will be real anger amongst members that the chancellor did not even deign to mention the issue of pay in the public sector beyond a reference to the NHS pay review body.

In the general election this year- the majority of the electorate voted in favour of lifting the 1% cap on pay for public servants and for increased investment in public services. Since 2010 many of our members in the civil service and wider public sector have seen a drop in their living standards of 15%. The Budget was an opportunity for the chancellor to show that this is a government that is listening. Instead they have put themselves on a collision course with their own staff.

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