People survey ‘secrecy’ hampers pay bargaining, say civil service unions

Annual staff-sentiment barometer also ignores ministerial bullying, MPs are told
Concerns: FDA assistant general secretary Amy Leversidge

By Jim Dunton

07 Mar 2023

The Cabinet Office's reluctance to share data from its annual survey of civil servants in a timely fashion is hampering unions’ ability to reflect members’ feelings in their pay submissions, MPs have been told.

The claim came in a Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee evidence session on the Civil Service People Survey this morning.

While the cross-departmental survey of staff sentiment is usually conducted in the autumn, in recent years its results have not been made public for several months. Details of the 2021 people survey were not released until April last year, the month after the Cabinet Office announced staff pay rises would be limited to an average of 2%-3%.

Amy Leversidge, assistant general secretary of public sector leaders’ union the FDA told MPs that while headline figures from the latest survey had been shared, the lack of detail about the survey’s findings – more than three months after responses were submitted – was unhelpful.

“We know that the pay satisfaction on this year’s survey has gone down significantly,” she said. “Data would help us inform our pay-remit discussion now.”

Leversidge said she had asked for additional information at a recent meeting with Cabinet Office officials responsible for the survey. “We were told ‘no’ and ‘that wouldn’t really be useful’,” she said.

Jon Moloney, assistant general secretary at PCS – the civil service’s biggest union – said he believed publication of the people survey data was delayed was for political rather than technical reasons.

“We can’t see any reason why the data can’t be issued very early in the year,” he told MPs. “As I understand it, all of the correlation is done very early in the year. It should be published as a neutral set of indices. People can then interpret them as they wish. At least we would have that data in the very beginning and it would inform the pay negotiations.”

The 2021 people survey revealed a drop in both pay satisfaction and the survey’s flagship engagement index. Cabinet secretary Simon Case indicated in December that the 2022 barometer’s results were “heading in the wrong direction”, with pay satisfaction one problem area.

PCS’s Moloney told MPs today that in addition to being more open with data on pay, the people survey should be asking civil servants more detailed questions about the reason for their pay-satisfaction scores.

“Certain things could be drilled down,” he said. “For instance, is it lack of progression [that means people are unsatisfied]? Is it the quantum? Is it the fact that you don’t get a bonus?”

The FDA’s Leversidge said working hours was another under-explored area.

“Working hours is a massive issue for civil servants at the moment – being on call and the changing dynamic of work,” she said.

A further glaring omission in the people survey related to bullying and harassment, she said.

She said that while the survey asked civil servants who said they had been victims of bullying or harassment for further details about the perpetrator of the behaviour, there was no opportunity to specify that a government minister was responsible.

Leversidge added that the research conducted among FDA members indicated that a failure to address unacceptable workplace behaviour on the part of politicians had a detrimental effect on behaviour-change work in the civil service.

“The fact that ministers are basically given impunity and can behave the way that they do undermines that work because it is allowing a culture to thrive,” she said.

Leversidge said the union's research found one in six members of the Senior Civil Service had witnessed “unacceptable behaviours” conducted by a minister in the past year and that the “vast majority” did not feel that a complaint would be dealt with fairly.

“If people can see that the minister gets away with impunity and there are no consequences for behaviour, that filters down,” she said.

“It’s a big thing and its not picked up at all from the People Survey.”

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