Civil service’s biggest union grows as pay battle intensifies

PCS says headcount grew by almost 5% in 2022 and is continuing to rise as strike action continues
Photo: Jenny Matthews/Alamy Stock Photo

By Jim Dunton

11 Apr 2023

The civil service’s largest trade union, PCS, has said its membership numbers grew by 4.9% in 2022, and “accelerated” as it balloted members on the current wave of strikes over pay and pensions towards the end of the year.

In its just-published Finance Report 2023, which includes the union’s accounts for the year, PCS said membership had grown by 7,867 during the year and stood at 191,289 at 31 December.

The union said the growth in membership has continued in the first three months of 2023. After a first quarter that has seen targeted industrial action at a range of departments and agencies and two all-out strikes, PCS said membership had now increased above 193,000.

The latest figure is still significantly below PCS’s membership levels in 2010, which were close to 300,000. A coalition government drive to end the “check-off” system that allowed union subscriptions to be removed directly from officials’ salaries is blamed for the sharp decline in membership, which only began to turn around in 2019 after hitting a low of around 176,000.

PCS membership grew by 1.6% in 2020 and 3.6% in 2021.

The union has secured High Court wins against departments that scrapped check-off . In 2018 it secured a £3m out-of-court settlement from the Department for Work and Pensions following a ruling that the department had been wrong in law to end check-off without the consent of officials whose subs were involved.

High Court victories against the Home Office, the then-Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and HM Revenue and Customs followed.

In its latest finance report, PCS said its subscriptions accounted for roughly 95% of its income, and that subs income after collection costs had grown by £740,000 in 2022.

The accounts described total net income of £25.62m in 2022, up from £24.89m the previous year. PCS spent a total of £20.20m during the year against a budgeted £21.4m, up from £18.5m in 2021.

The report said the union’s “fighting fund”, which supports members taking targeted industrial action and now offers full pay for affected staff, had grown from £2.27m at the end of 2021 to £3.20m at the end of last year.

PCS’s total staffing costs decreased slightly over the past 12 months – down from £10.34m in 2021 to £10.17m last year. In that time, the union’s full-time equivalent staff numbers dropped from 176 to 171. However, it said it expected headcount to rise this year.

PCS assistant general secretary and national treasurer John Moloney said the union had seen a “considerable improvement” in its finances over the past three years.

He said the continuation of savings achieved during the coronavirus pandemic had “significantly bolstered” the union’s cash reserves, but also stressed the importance of ongoing membership growth.

“We have deployed additional resources into member-facing organising, campaigning, communication, and digital roles for that purpose,” Moloney said.

“The NEC has agreed to continue along a path of financial prudency to ensure we live within our means going forward.

“This cautious approach reflects the fact that we remain in uncertain economic times. However, the union is now better equipped to deal with all eventualities with contingencies in place so that the union can, more easily, adapt to whatever the future holds.”

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