Global top ranking for Whitehall prompts calls for pay boost

Unions say staff behind “world’s best civil service” should get the reward they deserve

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By Jim.Dunton

26 Apr 2019

Whitehall’s rise to the top spot in the global civil-service rankings should be a wake-up call on fair pay for its staff, public sector unions have told the government.

Both the civil service’s biggest union force, PCS, and professionals’ union Prospect said the UK’s ascension to first place in the latest International Civil Service Effectiveness Index (InCiSE) should be ministers’ cue to end the 1.5% pay cap currently in place for departmental staff.

The latest InCiSE rankings, published last week, saw the UK civil service climb from fourth in the world in 2017’s tally to pole position this year. It was a result described by cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill as “a tribute to the professionalism and effective teamwork” of staff.


Cabinet Office minister David Lidington said the InCiSE findings were a vote of confidence in staff “at a time when Brexit has thrown up new challenges”.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka – whose union closes its ballot on pay-related strike action today – said ministers themselves could not take credit for the UK civil service’s improved InCiSE performance.

“This deserved accolade comes despite a government treating its own staff with utter contempt,” he said. “There remains a de-facto pay cap in place despite over 10 years of real terms reductions in our members wage packets.

“With the government refusing to plan properly for Brexit, wasting money on a possible no-deal exit which could have been ruled out much earlier and refusing to invest properly in key services our members provide, civil servants will find ministerial praise for their efforts very hollow.”

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, said it was no surprise that the UK civil service had been judged the best in the world because the dedication shown by its staff was obvious.

“What is a surprise is that despite having the best civil service in the world the government continues to reward its civil servants so poorly,” he said.

“It is a good thing that our civil service performs to such a high standard because no peacetime government has ever been so reliant on its civil servants. As it blunders along with its sole focus on Brexit, civil servants are the only ones keeping the country functioning, yet they are still subject to a 1.5% pay cap – the worst deal in the entire public sector.”

Graham said that it “stuck in the throats” of Prospect members that the government’s repeated claims to be ending austerity and scrapping the public sector pay cap had not applied to civil servants.

“While their pay has been capped at 1.5%, this month MPs have received a consolidated and pensionable increase of 2.7%,” he said.

“Civil servants should be proud of their top rating. If there was a similar comparison of the performance of elected national legislators it is difficult to see the UK coming top of the league based on recent performance.”

Lucille Thirlby, assistant general secretary at public sector leaders’ union the FDA, added that the government should give the civil service the same recognition InCiSE had.

“Our members have been working tirelessly to prepare the country for exiting the European Union, whatever shape that may take,” she said.

“Unfortunately, throughout this period, they have also faced unprecedented attacks on their impartiality and professionalism.

“All too often, these attacks come from within the prime minister's own party while she remains silent. She must stand up and defend the great work of her civil service.”

The InCiSE Index is complied by Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government and the Institute for Government and draws together a series of data and performance indicators for a host of government administrative functions, including tax administration, fiscal and financial management, digital services and policymaking.

Although it is described as a global ranking, the 2019 index only rated the performance of civil servants of 38 nations – up from 31 in 2017.

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