The long-awaited publication of this year’s pay remit guidance for government departments and agencies places the government on a collision course with their own staff and demonstrates a remarkable level of disdain for the hard work of thousands of committed public servants.
Despite the government announcing the end of the arbitrary 1% cap for public sector pay in the middle of last year, and multi-year deals achieved in local government, the NHS and a ground-breaking deal covering staff working for the Scottish Government, this year’s guidance demonstrated grudging movement and a disdain for a key part of the public sector workforce. After being repeatedly reassured that the 1% cap was a thing of the past, the new cap of 1-1.5% will be seen an insult by civil servants and could well leave some staff receiving the same derisory deals they have been suffering under since 2010.
Prospect has been pressing hard to engage with the Cabinet Office and Treasury on the formulation of this year’s remit guidance since the middle of last year. Ministers have repeatedly stated that the cap for the public sector was to be lifted, but sadly the reality has failed to live up to the rhetoric. The Cabinet Office and the Treasury have had to be dragged to the bargaining table. Given that ministers announced the policy change 11 months ago the paucity of thinking at the centre of government is flabbergasting and an insult. Not only will members be angry after almost a decade of pay cuts in real terms, but their employers will share their outrage. Civil service departments and agencies are facing recruitment and retention problems, staff attitude surveys which demonstrate that the vast majority of staff could be rewarded better doing similar jobs elsewhere, and increasing workloads with a constant exhortation to do more with less. This guidance will do nothing to ease those concerns and will simply store up more problems for the future.
Everyone knew that the 1% pay cap was unsustainable. No private sector employer has ever adopted such an approach. Prospect’s instinct is always for dialogue and negotiation, but where our voice and the voice of our members is ignored members will quite rightly want to take action and Prospect will support them. The status quo as seen elsewhere is not sustainable or acceptable and we will judge government pay policy not on the rhetoric but on what it delivers for members.
Over the summer we will be putting pressure on employers to make cases to the Cabinet Office and the Treasury to provide fair and funded pay increases for members. We recognise that a number of employers will be as angry and frustrated by the remit guidance as we are and our message is clear. Where we see organisations standing up for their staff and making the case we will work with them. There are clear examples of pay disparity, recruitment and retention difficulties, equal pay challenges, machinery of government impacts, the inability to use recycled money, increased productivity, which employers should be using as part of business cases to argue for a fair deal for their staff. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that this pay trajectory is leading towards serious recruitment problems and it is time the government to sit up and take notice.
The case for treating staff fairly needs to be made now. Senior leaders in the civil service and parts of the broader public sector have been silent for too long, though some have raised their heads above the parapet or sought to exert influence in private. Kicking the can down the road or awaiting the outcome of yet another spending round will not be acceptable. Prospect has been clear that where agreement cannot be reached on pay and our members wish to take action they will do so with the full support of their union.