The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Natural England are one step closer to awarding staff a pay remit-busting salary increase – but Defra has said its approved pay-flexibility cases are “less ambitious” than originally hoped.
Defra and the non-departmental public body both submitted proposals to the Treasury and Cabinet Office this summer that would enable them to give their staff pay rises exceeding the 4.5%, or 5% for the lowest-paid staff, set out for officials below senior civil service level in spring.
Now the proposals have got the green light, Defra leadership has promised to do “everything we can” to ensure backdated pay rises are paid out in December, but has warned that “timeframes are very tight”.
CSW reported earlier this week that morale in the department is suffering as staff are unable to receive their 2023-24 pay rise until the case has been approved and unions have been consulted.
Formal negotiations with civil service unions have now begun, staff were told in an email from permanent secretary Tamara Finkelstein and second perm sec Nick Joicey on 14 November.
The approved case is “less ambitious” than the one Defra submitted in July, they said.
“However, we believe our proposals represent the best possible outcome we can achieve for as many employees as possible, within the constraints we continue to face,” they added. Details of the proposed pay offer have not yet been made public.
However, the memo confirmed that staff will not see changes to their terms and conditions if the pay deal goes through.
The department will have to fund the extra costs associated with the higher pay rise from its existing budget.
“The approved pay cases allow us to use our existing pay bill and find opportunities to use our recruitment budgets more efficiently to award pay increases for all grades below SCS,” the email said.
Unions may choose to ballot their members on the case, at which point details of the case will be shared with staff.
"If we can't reach a settlement with the trade unions, we will review our position and update you," the perm secs said.
The announcement comes after months of discussions between Defra, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office.
Civil servants were told in September that Defra hoped to have an answer on its proposals by the end of the month, but a 5 October memo said the department was “still awaiting a response from Cabinet Office and Treasury”.
In this week's announcement, the perm secs said: “We will do everything we can to pay this remit and extra increases, backdated to 1 July 2023, in colleagues’ December pay. However, it has taken a lot of hard work and time to get to this point and timeframes are very tight. We will do what we can and we will keep you informed."
One Defra staffer told CSW this week that morale is "through the floor" and civil servants are considering leaving the department, which is one of the lowest-paid in central government. Median pay for Defra grade 6 and 7 officials is £54,330, lower than both the civil service average of £58,440 and any other central department.
"Staff across the department are worried how they will afford Christmas for their children, usually we receive our uplift in October, there is still no sign. Despite this we have been repeatedly told that the award will be made this year – staff are rightly frustrated and worried," the official said.