Details on greater civil service specialist pay freedom expected in the spring

Proposals to allow changes to pay and terms for specialists being finalised for the new financial year, it is understood, amid claims salaries could top £300,000

By matt.foster

07 Jan 2016

More details on the Cabinet Office's plans to offer improved pay and terms for some specialists in the civil service are expected early in the new financial year, Civil Service World understands.

As CSW reported in November, the Cabinet Office is drawing up plans for new permanent civil service payscales to try and help Whitehall recruit and retain specialists at a time of ongoing pay restraint – with a view to reducing the organisation's reliance on contractors and help with retention.

Annual payrises across the public sector are currently capped at 1%, but unions – and some senior officials – have expressed concern about the effects of pay constraints on staff with highly marketable skills.

A recent survey of Whitehall’s digital leaders by the National Audit Office demonstrated the scale of the challenge in luring and keeping hold of digital specialists, with more than 80% of the government tech leaders interviewed by the spending watchdog saying that the amount they were able to offer staff had taken a negative toll on their ability “to recruit and retain the right people from elsewhere”.

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Acknowledging the problem, Civil service chief executive John Manzoni told MPs last year: "I’m going to hire more commercial specialists across the government, but to do that I’ve got to create career paths for them otherwise they won’t want to come, I’ve got to change the pay scales otherwise they won’t come, and I’ve got to change the terms and conditions, and I’ve got to do all of that with – at the same time-living within the fiscal constraints of the existing departments.

He added: “So actually we’ve assessed the commercial organisations in each department, we’ve looked at them, we’ve benchmarked them – if that’s not management speak – against what we think would be ideal and we have got a specific set of actions in each department and in the Cabinet Office to say ‘what do our senior commercial specialists need to look like across government over the course of the next few years?’"

It was subsequently reported by a number of outlets this week that officials could earn upwards of £300,000 under the proposals backed by Manzoni, and that such salaries would not be subject to the usual approval process by which ministers must sign off on pay above £150,000. The reports prompted criticism from the TaxPayers' Alliance pressure group.

“Ministers must be mindful of the need to keep a lid on unjustifiable large pay packages,” said the organisation's chief Jonathan Isaby.

However a spokesperson for the Cabinet Office would not be drawn on the veracity of the £300,000 figure, saying: "Developing commercial, digital and other specialist capability is a key priority for the civil service, to ensure that we attract and retain talented specialists. 

"We are developing proposals to build clear career paths, high quality learning and development products, and reward packages that allows the civil service to improve specialist capability and therefore the delivery of public services."

The changes are likely to be focused around the civil service professions, which include commercial, digital and project management. Manzoni has said that those three areas in particular are at the top of his mind as chief exec.

It is understood that plans for a new specialist pay and terms package will be finalised early on in the new financial year, following discussions with staff and trade unions representing officials. There will also be a focus on making it easier for civil servants with specialist skills to move across departments and develop expertise relevant to their professions. 

A civil service-wide human resources strategy is expected to be published this spring, following the appointment this month of Whitehall's first chief people officer, Rupert McNeil. The CPO joins after a stint at Lloyds, and takes charge of HR policy, including training and development, across the whole of government.

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the CPO as Rupert Lloyd. He is, of course, Rupert McNeil. Apologies for the error – Matt

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