Excl: Civil service pay remit guidance delayed 'to align with other public services'

"We are taking a strategic approach to public sector pay in the round," chief people officer says
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Civil service pay remit guidance will not be published until later this summer, CSW has learned.

The Cabinet Office will publish the annual guidance – which sets the parameters for departmental pay rises – later than usual in a bid to more “closely align” decisions about pay for the civil service with the rest of the public sector.

The guidance is usually published in March or April, although there is no set deadline for it.

However, independent pay bodies – which make recommendations for other areas of public service and the senior civil service – typically publish their recommendations later in the summer. There is no such body for civil service delegated grades.

In a letter to HR directors, civil service chief people officer Fiona Ryland said that “given the complex and evolving macroeconomic context and to make sure we are taking a strategic approach to public sector pay in the round”, the Civil Service Board, Treasury and Cabinet Office ministers had jointly decided to delay publication to coincide with the independent pay bodies’ reports.

“I recognise this may be challenging and have consequences for your staff, however the Civil Service Board thought hard about this decision and judged that the benefits of more closely aligning decisions about pay for the civil service with the rest of the public sector were significant,” she said.

In recent years, civil service pay rises have typically been lower than those awarded in other areas of public service. In 2023-24, teachers got a 6.5% pay rise, while NHS nurses had a 5% pay rise plus two one-off payments worth just over £2,000 on average. Civil servants were given a 4.5% rise – topped up to 5% for the lowest paid – plus a £1,500 cost-of-living payment offered a month after last year’s pay remit guidance was published.

A Q&A document setting out “core messages” on the delay says: “When the government accepted the pay review recommendations for other workforces in July, including for the senior civil service, the award for delegated grades announced [in] April [2023] proved to be out of kilter with those for the wider public sector workforces, including the SCS.”

The Senior Salaries Review Body published its recommendations on SCS pay last July, calling for a 5.5% pay rise in 2023-24 plus a 1% increase to the overall paybill to be “targeted at those who are delivering in role” – outstripping the 4.5-5% increase set out for most sub-SCS staff three months earlier.

Addressing the question of why pay rises in the civil service have compared poorly with those elsewhere in the public sector, the Q&A document says: "It is important that public sector pay awards strike a careful balance between recognising the vital importance of public sector workers, whilst delivering value for the taxpayer and not increasing the country’s debt further."

The Q&A adds that after last year’s pay remit guidance was published, “we saw the macroeconomic context in the prevailing months shift significantly”.

The £1,500 cost-of-living payment, which was offered last June after unions had already begun disruptive national strike action, came “in the context of the shifting macroeconomic position”, it says.

The briefing says “no decisions have been made” on the headline award for the 2024-25 pay remit guidance – in response to a question on whether the later schedule would lead to civil servants’ pay rises matching those of other public servants.

The last Spending Review allowed for a 2% increase to departmental paybills, and one of the questions in the Q&A asked how departments would afford a higher figure should the pay remit guidance allow for this. “It is for departments to consider and manage pay to their workforces within their existing budget,” the answer read.

Another question asked whether staff can expect higher pay increases in light of the government's drive to cut some 70,000 civil service jobs.

"It is for individual departments to determine the terms and conditions of employment for civil servants outside the senior civil service, including their pay," the response reads.

On why there is no independent body to recommend pay for civil servants, the briefing says: "Civil service departments deal with many different complex issues, each have their particular policy and operational priorities. It is important that departments continue to have flexibility to tailor their own pay and grading arrangements to enable them to recruit, retain and motivate their own workforces."

Once the guidance has been published and pay remits have been implemented, pay rises will be backdated to departments’ usual settlement dates.

Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union – which represents professionals such as engineers and scientists in the civil service – said stalling publication of the guidance was recognition of fundamental problems with departmental pay.

"The Cabinet Office decision to delay the publication of the civil service pay remit guidance shows they know that pay increases and rates for those covered have lagged significantly behind those for staff elsewhere in the public sector – many of whom are covered by review body provisions," he said.

"Prospect has repeatedly said that the civil service is treated as the poor relation by comparison to the rest of the public sector and the wider economy in terms of pay. In many areas that has fuelled a recruitment and retention crisis for specialist skills.

"The current pay system is broken and in need of fundamental reform. The decision to delay the publication of remit guidance and to ensure it is not out of step with pay increases for the wider public sector represents a small step forward and recognises the arguments we have consistently been making."

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "It’s important that civil service pay awards are both fair and affordable for the taxpayer. 

"This year's pay remit guidance will be published in due course and we will continue dialogue with unions." 

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