Civil service resignation rate rising as unions blame 'broken' pay system

Unions blame "plummeting" pay and pay system "broken beyond repair"
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By Tevye Markson

04 Aug 2023

Resignation rates in the civil service have risen again, with unions blaming a “broken pay system” and “a decade of plummeting pay”.

Some 26,000 of the 46,000 officials who left the civil service last year exited by resigning, meaning resignations made up 57% of all departures, the Cabinet Office has revealed in its latest annual statistics, covering the 2022-23 financial period.

It is the second year in a row that more than half of civil servant left by handing in their notice, after resignations rocketed last year.

In 2021-22, some 24,440 of the 44,220 civil service exits were resignations, representing 54% of all departures. This was the first time more than half of civil servants had left by quitting since the government started measuring reasons for leaving the civil service in 2018-19.

Year Number of resignations Percentage of all departures
2023 26,425 57%
2022 23,870 54%
2021 10,870 39%
2020 15,810 46%
2019 15,110 48%

In the latest statistics, for 2022-23, retirement remains the second most common reason for leaving, with 9,495 civil servants exiting this way, or 21% of all departures. Other common reasons include dismissal, with 2,365 officials getting the boot, and end of a fixed contract, with 4,750 civil servants leaving due to this.

Responding to the latest figures, unions told CSW they were a result of the real-terms decline in pay over the last ten years.

FDA assistant general secretary Amy Leversidge: “It is incredibly worrying that civil service resignations are continuing to rise, but it is not surprising when the value of civil service pay has been plummeting for over a decade.”

In a survey of senior civil servants carried out by the FDA this year, just over 41% said they were actively looking for another job.

“While soaring workloads and attacks on the impartiality of the civil service were high on the list, the declining value of pay was the top reason for wanting to leave,” Leversidge said.

“Civil servants were telling us they could no longer justify staying when the pay is so low compared to the same types of jobs in the private sector.”

The civil service’s own poll, the People Survey, found 22% of civil servants were looking to leave either immediately or within 12 months.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told CSW the resignations are both a result of pay anger and poor treatment of staff.

"When you treat staff badly and pay staff badly, it's no surprise they don't want to work for you. If ministers are serious about tackling the civil service resignation crisis, they could start with paying workers a fair wage and treating them with respect, Serwotka said.

Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said the high level of resignations are a sign of a broken pay system.

“These soaring resignations demonstrate that the current civil service pay setting system is broken beyond repair.

“The value of pay has plummeted over the past decade, harming morale, and causing talented experts to head for better pay elsewhere. The centralised remit process leaves individual employers deeply uncompetitive in the wider labour market and is a blocker to addressing growing structural problems within pay systems. This damaging trend will continue until the government introduces a pay and reward strategy that rewards talent, knowledge and expertise, and empowers the civil service to recruit and retain skilled staff that can address the major challenges facing our country.”

This week, Prospect and the FDA wrote a letter to the minister for the Cabinet Office requesting urgent talks on pay system reform.

“These figures should be another reminder to the minister that we must transform our broken pay system before it is too late,” Leversidge added.

The Cabinet Office has been approached for comment.

Thinking of quitting your civil service job? Dame Una O’Brien has given CSW the lowdown on what you should consider first


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