Gove 'fails to grasp' urgency of need to invest in SCS pay

Comparisons to private sector pay “at best wrong, and at worst deliberately misleading”, unions say
Victoria Jones/PA

Unions have pushed back at Michael Gove for saying it is “fair” that senior civil servants will not get a pay rise this year because they have fared better than private sector workers, and accused the Cabinet Office minister of failing to grasp the urgency of the need for pay reform.

Lucille Thirlby, assistant general secretary of the FDA union, said Gove’s statement announcing the publication of this year’s Senior Salaries Review Body report “fails to grasp” the document’s call for an SCS strategy that is understandable and introduces clear pay progression.

The SSRB, which makes recommendations on SCS employment terms each year, also made several recommendations on reforming performance management and introducing a capability-based pay system.

“The report clearly identifies areas that require an urgent focus, particularly the lack of progress on the reform to the performance management system, and investment in and implementation of a credible, robust and simple pay progression system,” Thirlby said.

“As the SSRB points out, there is a ‘continuing thread’ in its concerns of ‘excessive complexity rather than a determined drive to implementation’.”

There are “obvious consequences” to ministers failing to reform SCS pay, Thirlby saud, with three departments facing 30% turnover among their senior staff in a year.

“We suggest that the minister for the Cabinet Office spends real time considering the SSRB recommendations and then takes decisive action and invests in his senior leaders. The Declaration on Government Reform will remain nothing more than words if the government fails to make the urgent step change required by investing in and valuing the SCS, and all civil servants,” she added.

Gove’s statement in the House of Commons did not address the SSRB’s recommendations on pay progression, performance management or capability-based pay.

Instead, his comments addressed the fact that the SSRB had not been asked to make pay recommendations for the SCS – as it usually does – for 2021-22 because of the public sector pay freeze announced in last year’s Budget.

“This is in order to ensure fairness between public and private sector wage growth, as the private sector was significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic in the form of reduced hours, suppressed earnings growth and increased redundancies, whilst the public sector was largely shielded from these effects,” Gove said, echoing comments made by chancellor Rishi Sunak when he announced the freeze.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect trade union, said the comparison was “at best wrong, and at worst deliberately misleading”, given private sector pay is expected to rise by an average of 2.4% this year. 

"The government has never been more reliant on its civil service than it has been during the pandemic- keeping citizens safe, supporting their lives and communities, and stopping the country from grinding to a halt. This real-terms pay cut is a slap in the face for hard-working public servants,” Graham said.

"At a time when the economy is trying to rebound, constraining pay in this way is also economically illiterate. The government should think again," he added.

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