Civil service workforce plan: unions warn of "two-tier" pay risk

Pay reviews are welcome, say union chiefs – but they must not deepen pay divide between existing staff and external recruits

Garry Graham of the Prospect union said the Cabinet Office's plan for a review of pay and reward structures must not widen the "pay gulf" between internal and external hires. Image: Prospect

By Suzannah Brecknell

13 Jul 2016

Unions have welcomed the government’s commitment to review the civil service pay and reward frameworks – but have warned that the salary gap between external recruits and existing staff should not be allowed to deepen.

The new civil service workforce plan, launched at Civil Service Live this week, said that a review of senior civil service (SCS) pay will report by November 2016, with further reviews on pay and reward structures for specialist staff set to report by April of next year.

The plan also promised to develop a new a reward framework for all civil servants, with principles to be agreed by March 2017 and in place by May 2020. 

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The Cabinet Office also pledged to increase the proportion of staff recruited from outside the civil service, with all civil service roles advertised externally by default by the end of the current parliament after an initial push at SCS level.

Minister Matt Hancock also said the new Government Commercial Organisation, set up to centrally employ and recruit senior commercial staff, will offer clear career paths and “a competitive reward proposition through a set of new pay ranges.”

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union for specialists working in the public sector, told CSW that his union supported the Cabinet Office's acknowledgement of issues on pay and reward.

“Prospect welcomes the fact that there is a dawning recognition that the expanding gulf between the pay for professionals, managers and specialists in the civil service and the private sector is simply not sustainable," he said.

But Graham warned that that there were deeper ideological drivers behind making recruitment external by default. 

“Most organisations see the need to strike a balance between growing their own timber and providing career pathways and refreshing skills and thinking from outside," he said. 

“Government needs to be careful about this – when you promote people in post so they get paid more for doing the same job and other people get paid less for doing the same job,” Dave Penman, FDA union

"The pay gulf in the SCS between those who came in from outside and those who have built their careers in the civil service cannot be allowed to be replicated."

Dave Penman, head of the FDA union representing senior officials, meanwhile echoed those concerns.

While he also said a review of pay and reward was welcome, he added: "There is a real danger that we’re going to end up with what we’ve got in the SCS which is effectively a two-tier pay structure, with people brought in from outside on market premiums and internal staff getting paid significantly less and no way of catching up."

This could, he warned, undermine other aspects of the plan, such as the drive to improve the way the civil service spots, supports and retains talented staff. A further challenge could, Penman added, come from the government's plans to end the policy which means civil servants cannot be promoted in-post but must move jobs for a promotion.

“Government needs to be careful about this – when you promote people in post so they get paid more for doing the same job and other people get paid less for doing the same job,” Penman said.

He added that while the FDA did not “reject” the idea of in-post promotion, it wanted the government to consider all the consequences of the new policy.

“Overall we do welcome the plan, and the focus on a more coherent strategy for the civil service and how it's people are going to manage the challenge of helping government deliver its objectives for this parliament – which has just got ever-greater thanks to Brexit.”

Penman noted, however, that “there is nothing in this entire plan about working with the trade unions", though he believes there are many areas where unions can support government’s ambitions.

Graham, too, signified that unions will want input into the plans, saying: “Prospect is keen to engage in an early dialogue on pay and reward and to modernise pay systems so they are fit for the future. Our earlier efforts to do so have been thwarted by the dead hand of the Treasury and a policy vacuum at the centre.”

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