Cuts to senior civil service numbers could fund pay rises, SSRB suggests

Reducing the number of senior officials could create “material savings, some of which could be used to increase pay and incentives for a streamlined, higher-quality SCS”, review body says
Johnson's government planned 91,000 civil service job cuts. Photo: Adobe Stock

Reducing the size of the senior civil service could free up money to increase senior officials’ pay and improve outcomes, the committee charged with making recommendations on senior civil servants’ pay has said.

The senior civil service is 70% larger than a decade ago, and the overall SCS paybill has risen by 97% in that time, the Senior Salaries Review Body said.

Cutting this could lead to “material savings” and improve the way the SCS is run, the SSRB said in its annual report yesterday.

“Brexit and the pandemic explain only some of this growth and we have seen no coherent plan for what the size, shape and composition of the SCS should be,” the report said.

Instead, it said the expansion had been “reactive, without a strategic focus on SCS priorities and its requisite optimal size”.

 “Moreover, it is not clear that this expansion has led to a corresponding improvement in the outcomes the SCS is there to achieve,” the report added. 

The SSRB has long called for a more strategic approach to the size and makeup of the senior civil service – a call it repeated in yesterday’s report. The Cabinet Office is currently working on a five-year plan for the SCS, which the SSRB said should address some of these issues.

The government's planned civil service headcount reduction, which aims to cut 91,000 jobs over the next three years, will also provide an opportunity for reorganisation at the senior levels.

"We assume this includes the SCS," the report said, adding: "While we agree with the need for a smaller and more focused SCS, we urge the government to develop a specific strategic plan that focuses on priorities, leadership and the delivery of outcomes."

As well as making the SCS more efficient and effective, the SSRB said reducing the number of senior officials could create “material savings, some of which could be used to increase pay and incentives for a streamlined, higher-quality SCS”.

The report calls for the government’s efforts to cut 91,000 civil service jobs to include a specific plan for the SCS headcount. The report endorsed the government’s need for a “smaller and more focused SCS”, but said any cuts must focus on “priorities, leadership and the delivery of outcomes”.

“This should include a clear understanding of the purpose of the SCS that can drive strategic workforce decisions,” it adds.

After nodding to the government’s emphasis on “affordability” of public service pay rises, the SSRB noted “pay is but one component of a budget”.

“In all our recent reports, we have underlined the importance of setting remuneration within the context of a wider departmental plan,” it added.

The report highlights a number of problems caused by the real-terms decrease in pay for senior civil servants – as well as for their more junior colleagues – over more than a decade.

Among other things, the SSRB said it was “concerned about whether the SCS is able to attract and retain leaders of the right calibre”, and that depressing senior pay over long periods “damages motivation and morale and lowers the attractiveness of leadership positions”.

“Moreover, some senior managers are now paid less than those they are responsible for, which is a particular problem in parts of the senior civil service. This can deter applicants from feeder groups from applying for promotion,” the report said.

“The cumulative effect of restraining senior pay over long periods distorts incentives at all levels of an organisation.”

Yesterday’s report called for a 3% across-the-board pay rise for senior civil servants, which the Cabinet Office rejected in favour of a 2% rise for most senior officials.

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