The Cabinet Office has said preparations to “minimise” the impact of civil service strikes are under way and that departments will draw on lessons learned during the coronavirus pandemic to keep critical services running.
Its pledge came after the PCS union announced that members across 126 departments, agencies and other public bodies had voted in favour of strike action to secure a 10% inflationary pay rise and a reduction in pensions contributions.
PCS, which is the civil service’s biggest union, has given ministers a week to reopen negotiations on the 2%-3% rise currently being offered to civil servants before it formalises plans for large-scale staff walkouts.
The Cabinet Office said “significant action” is already being taken across government to “mitigate, as far as possible, the potential impacts of strikes”.
It said in a briefing that there would “inevitably be disruption to some services” if civil servants withdraw their labour, but it added that arrangements were being put in place to minimise this and make sure key services are kept running.
“The experience of responding to unexpected events such as Covid-19 has developed and tested departments’ ability to flex their resources to protect the most critical services,” the briefing said.
“Departments are building on this and preparing contingency measures for resourcing key roles such as training internal staff and prioritising essential business.”
The Cabinet Office said it would be taking oversight of ensuring “high-quality planning and preparations” for services such as passports and benefits that are delivered by civil servants, and that Cabinet Office ministers were “personally overseeing and coordinating the process".
A government spokesperson expressed disappointment at the strike vote and suggested dialogue with the PCS union would continue.
“We regret this decision and remain in regular discussion with unions and staff,” they said.
“As the public would expect, we have plans in place to keep essential services running and minimise any potential disruption if strikes do go ahead.
“The public sector pay awards are a careful balance between delivering value for money for the taxpayer and recognising the importance of public sector workers.”
PCS said the strike vote saw an average turnout of 51.6% among members in 216 employer areas covered. However, the legal threshold of 50% turnout for strike action to be lawful was only met in 126 departments, agencies and other organisations.
The Treasury and HM Revenue and Customs were among the departments where turnout was just below 50%, but where the sentiment expressed by those PCS members who did vote was overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.
PCS has said it will reballot HMRC early next year, as its 47% turnout fell just 750 ballots short of the threshold.