Government accused of 'ducking responsibility' by waiting for review bodies before lifting pay cap

PCS union reiterates call for return to national bargaining across the entire civil service

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka accused ministers of "ducking responsibility" over public sector pay Photo: PA

By Richard Johnstone

04 Jul 2017

The government has been accused of “ducking its responsibility” for setting civil service pay after ministers indicated they would wait for recommendations from public sector pay review bodies before ending the current 1% cap on increases.

The Public and Commercial Services trade union highlighted that a number of ministers, including environment secretary Michael Gove and defence secretary Michael Fallon, had indicated pay review bodies could be given powers to bust the 1% cap on increases, which has been in place since 2012.


However more than half (55%) of public sector workers, including nearly 389,000 civil servants, were outside the remit of the pay review bodies, the union said. This means the government could take immediate action to end the 1% limit for those workers.

Under the current system, pay review bodies make recommendations on sector pay for senior civil servants, NHS staff and teachers, based on a Treasury mandate to keep increases within the 1% limit. For civil servants outside the SCS, pay policy is set separately for departments through Treasury guidance, which also follows the 1% cap.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said “ministers insisting we wait for recommendations from pay review bodies are just ducking responsibility”.

He added: “The majority of public sector workers are not covered by a review body and, in the civil service as elsewhere, the Treasury holds the purse strings, sets the policy and has the power to change it.”

PCS also reiterated its call for a return to national pay bargaining for the civil service to replace the “incredibly wasteful and time consuming” devolved systems where departments undertake individual negotiations based on Treasury pay policy.

National pay bargaining for the civil service was in place for more than 70 years before the then Conservative government, over a period between 1994 and 1996, broke it up and devolved responsibility, the union pointed out.

PCS's comments come as chancellor Philip Hammond called for a "grown-up debate" over what more taxpayers were willing to pay towards services before ending the pay cap.

In a speech to business leaders at the CBI's president’s dinner, Hammond said: "The serious question to the electorate cannot be 'would you like us to tax someone who isn’t you to pay for you to consume more?', but 'would you be willing to pay more tax to consume more public services?'”

Public sector pay, including for civil servants, was originally frozen for two years from 2010, followed by a 1% cap on annual pay rises. This is due – under pre-election Conservative plans – to remain in place until at least 2020.

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