‘Blind prejudice’: FDA boss attacks MPs critical of civil service bonuses

Bonus for prime minister’s Brexit adviser Oliver Robbins singled out for ire from Brexiteer MPs


By Tamsin Rutter

23 Jul 2018

The FDA trade union boss has hit out at the “blind prejudice and breathtaking ignorance” of the people criticising the bonuses awarded to civil servants this year.

Dave Penman pointed out that government analysis shows senior civil servants are paid half as much as their private sector counterparts, amid reports based on the salary and bonus data published in departmental annual accounts for 2017-18.

Oliver Robbins, Theresa May’s Brexit adviser, was singled out for ire from Brexiteer MPs after the Department for Exiting the European Union annual accounts revealed he received a bonus in the £15-20,000 bracket before he was moved to the Cabinet Office in October.


The payment was derided by Brexit-backing Conservative MPs, including Conor Burns, who described it as “unbelievable”, and Sir Bill Cash, who said it was “breathtaking” that Robbins had received the bonus given the current state of Brexit negotiations.

The bonus came on top of a salary of £160-165,000, of which he was paid up to £85,000 by DExEU before moving to the Cabinet Office.

But Penman told Civil Service World: “Once again, the reporting on performance-related payments for senior civil servants demonstrates a combination of blind prejudice and breathtaking ignorance.

“The government’s own independent analysis shows that the most senior roles in the civil service are paid less than half relative to comparable jobs in both the private sector and rest of the public sector. Performance-related payments are only paid to a minority of staff and go through a rigorous review process.”

The FDA, alongside the other civil service trade unions PCS and Prospect, has threatened the government with legal action if it does not withdraw the pay guidance issued in June which would limit civil servants’ pay rises to 1.5%.

Robbins has come under fire for his role in Brexit negotiations, with Stewart Jackson, the former chief of staff of David Davis, who quit as Brexit secretary this month, accusing Robbins on Twitter of blocking publication of DExEU’s white paper on the future relationship between the UK and EU.

It’s all part of the plan. Robbins et al blocked the publication of the White Paper from at least March because 1) they’d lose policy control and 2) Ipso facto it’s contents might not be the Hotel California Brexit they delivered at Chequers https://t.co/468KSmLLtf

— Stewart Jackson (@BrexitStewart) July 10, 2018

Penman added: “It is all the more ironic, given the events within government of the last two weeks, that some would seek to point the finger of blame at civil servants for our current negotiating position on Brexit, rather than the political leadership.”

He compared the criticism that civil servants have come up against from UK politicians, with the respect he has encountered for the UK civil service from overseas.

“Only last month, the UK civil service was publicly praised as the best in the world by the Irish deputy prime minister, for managing to keep the Brexit negotiations on track despite the political turmoil and lack of clear political leadership,” he said.

DExEU’s accounts showed that three other senior officials in the department received bonuses in 2017-18, two of them in the £10-15,000 bracket and one under £5,000.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ annual accounts revealed that Sir Robert Devereux, who retired as DWP permanent secretary in January, received a £15-20,000 bonus, while Neil Couling, director general, Universal Credit, received up to £5,000.

The Home Office’s annual accounts for this year detailed a bonus of £15-20,000 for permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam; £10-15,000 for Mark Thomson, director general, UK Visas and Immigration; up to £5,000 for former second perm sec Patsy Wilkinson; and £5-10,000 for Hugh Ind, who was acting director general, immigration enforcement, until he left the Home Office following a row over the use of deportation targets that led to the resignation of former home secretary Amber Rudd.

The department said Ind’s move, to lead the implementation of the public sector apprenticeships strategy in the Cabinet Office, was unrelated to his role in Rudd’s departure.

The biggest bonus in HM Treasury, at £15-20,000 went to Mark Bowman, director general, international and EU, who helped put together the Treasury’s estimate of the UK’S Brexit bill.

Cabinet Office pay guidance for 2018-19, issued on 26 June, told departments to limit average pay awards for government workers to a range of 1%-1.5% in what the government said was an end to the 1% cap on increases in place since 2012, but which represents a lower settlement than many other parts of the public sector.

Following the publication of the guidance, the union chiefs said that a fresh consultation was needed due to a lack of ministerial engagement with unions, including promised consultation meetings that did not take place.

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