It is not a given that redundancies made as part of the plan to cut 91,000 civil service jobs will be on 2010 terms, it has emerged.
The Prospect trade union said last week that senior Cabinet Office officials had confirmed at a meeting that redundancies “will be on 2010 terms”.
But the Cabinet Office has now told CSW that negotiations on terms are in fact still ongoing and no guarantees are in place about voluntary redundancies as part of the planned job losses.
Civil servants taking voluntary redundancy are currently entitled to one month’s pay for every year worked, capped at 21 months, under terms agreed with unions in 2010.
However, the Cabinet Office has been exploring changes to the rules since 2017, when it opened its most recent consultation on exit terms. Negotiations have been going on behind the scenes since then.
The conversation has been brought to the fore as permanent secretaries and ministers consider how to reduce the size of the civil service by nearly 20% – a target set by Boris Johnson earlier this month.
Unions met with the Cabinet Office on 17 May to discuss the planned cuts, including the potential use of exit schemes to reduce headcount.
Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said in a blog the following day that Cabinet Office officials had confirmed at the meeting that redundancies “will be on 2010 terms”.
Asked on 18 May to respond to the comments, a Cabinet Office spokesperson did not contradict Prospect’s claim.
The department has now confirmed that while the current terms remain in effect for the time being, they could be subject to change.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson told CSW: "Reforming the Civil Service Compensation Scheme is a longstanding policy to ensure taxpayer's money is spent efficiently, provide fair compensation for those that exit and equip the civil service with the skills it needs for the future. We will continue to consult with trade unions on these proposals."
In an earlier statement responding to Graham's comments, a spokesperson said last week: "When people across the country are facing huge living costs, the public rightly expect their government to lead by example and to run as efficiently as possible. That’s why the PM has tasked the cabinet to report back with a plan for returning the civil service to its 2016 levels over the next three years.
"Any speculation on where and how those reductions will be made is premature and we will set out our plans in due course."
This comment was included in CSW's story on the meeting, which was published on 19 May.
FDA general secretary Dave Penman, who was also present at the meeting, has since told CSW that officials at the meeting could provide “little detail” on what redundancies would look like “given the nature of the announcement”.
The announcement of jobs cuts came unexpectedly via the press, and messages sent from permanent secretaries the following day suggested even top officials had been unaware it was coming.
Penman said of officials in the meeting: “Whilst their view was that talk of redundancies was premature, given the lack of any detailed plan, the current compensation scheme terms would apply until or if they were subject to change. They could not, and did not, commit to the current terms applying for the duration of any staffing reduction.”
Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, stood by his colleague's comments.
"We are confident of the words used in the meeting and reflected in our account to members," Clancy said.
“If the government want to now say that the terms will only apply unless or until they try to change them by agreement or imposition, then all civil servants will want to hear that, so let’s see what they are saying?
“We are also clear that ultimate responsibility for the CSCS rests with ministers and we will oppose any detrimental changes.”
Consultations on reforming the CSCS began in 2017, but CSW understands progress has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2010 terms were described by former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude as “fair for the taxpayer”, “right for the long term” and providing the basis of an enduring agreement.
The Cabinet Office took steps to change the terms in 2016 to three weeks’ pay for every year served, capped at 18 months’ pay. However, the changes were deemed unlawful in 2017, after PCS took the department to the High Court, and were reversed by the government after the ruling.