The leaders of the civil service’s main unions have demanded an urgent meeting with cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill over the Cabinet Office’s handling of the current year’s pay settlement.
This week the FDA, Prospect, and the Public and Commercial Services Union learned they had been unsuccessful in a High Court challenge to the legality of the Treasury pay remit covering more than 400,000 civil servants that was published in June and set a 1%-1.5% average pay range for increases.
While their claim that there was insufficient consultation on the guidance was dismissed, the unions said documents released to the court had revealed behaviour on the part of the Cabinet Office that had “destroyed” their trust and confidence in officials.
The letter – signed by FDA general secretary Dave Penman, Prospect general secretary Mark Clancy, and PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka – suggests that the 1%-1.5% band for increases was agreed as far back as March, and was seen as a way to “manage down expectations” among other pay review bodies.
According to the letter, information disclosed to the High Court suggested that the original pay-increase proposals for civil servants had included average rises of up to 2%. But the figure was downgraded to 1.5% after a February 22 meeting of the Civil Service Executive and signed off “days before” a March 29 meeting with unions.
The union leaders said the documents made it clear that ministers had been advised that the pay increases were likely to be the lowest in the public sector and would run contrary to staff expectations in the light of ministerial statements on higher awards being made to public sector workers, and may prompt industrial action.
“Despite all of this, seeking additional funding from the Treasury was ruled out,” they said. “It is clear that through omission and commission that we have been misled. This matter goes to the heart of the notion of trust and confidence.
“It is also now clear that whatever the expectations at a central level, departmental negotiations have also been a sham with departments rushing almost meaningless consultation to impose the 1.5% cap.”
Penman, Clancy and Serwotka said they needed an urgent meeting with Sedwill – who formally succeeded Sir Jeremy Heywood as cabinet secretary on Wednesday – to get answers on how the Cabinet Office could restore trust.
“We have always sought to engage positively on behalf of members even in the face of the most difficult of circumstances,” they said.
“However, such engagement is only possible where there is a level of trust and confidence. That trust and confidence has been destroyed by the behaviours of the Cabinet Office over the pay remit guidance.
“The behaviours demonstrated would not be acceptable in the private sector and the civil service is the only area of the public sector where such an approach is adopted. Government should be an exemplar of good practice not bad.”
A government spokesperson said Cabinet Office officials had already invited national union representatives to discuss how the process of engagement on pay could be improved for next year.
“We look forward to continuing to work constructively with unions in the future,” they said. “We will consider the letter once we have received it.”
This story was updated at 18:30 on 26 October to include a response from the Cabinet Office