Some government lawyers offered 16% two-year pay rise: 'Welcome news for the lucky few'

Government Legal Department perm sec apologises that offer excludes more junior staff but says it was "the best overall outcome we were going to get"

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By Tevye Markson

14 Feb 2023

Junior and senior lawyers in the Government Legal Department have been offered an average 16% pay rise over the next two years, but there is no new deal for other grades.

GLD permanent secretary Susanna McGibbon said the offer is “significant” but also “disappointing” as the department had sought to negotiate a pay increase for all it staff.

In an an internal memo seen by CSW, McGibbon apologised that the offer "falls short" of the business case GLD had submitted to the Treasury and Cabinet Office,which she said "sought significant improvements for all colleagues".

However, she said it was "clear that this was the best overall outcome we were going to get this year".

Unions will now have their say on the offer, which covers 65% of colleagues below senior civil service level, but have already raised concerns about its limited scope. Officials at the department have also expressed mixed views on the offer.

The proposal, which has been signed off by ministers, covers the next two years – 2023-24 and 2024-25.

If the deal is accepted by civil service unions, it will see pay increase by 8% in each year for Grade 6 and 7 lawyers across the department, taking effect each April. This is in addition to the recent 3% increase paid from August 2022.

In the letter to department staff, McGibbon said: “I am pleased to announce that following extensive work and lengthy negotiation, we have been successful, in part, in securing ministerial agreement for an enhanced pay offer.”

The offer is tied to pay reform that means individual pay awards will be based on their skills and experience, McGibbon added.

“There are conditions attached to the offer and changes will be made to how pay is determined through the introduction of a new capability-based pay arrangement,” she said.

McGibbon said the department is already working on the implementation of the pay offer as implementing these conditions will be "complex".

A Government Legal Department spokesperson said: “A pay offer has been agreed for some lawyers across GLD, in order for government to have access to the legal talent it needs. No new money has been allocated for this increase, which is being funded through efficiencies."

Changes to terms and conditions will be used to help fund the improved pay, CSW understands.

GLD employs around 850 senior lawyers and around 1,000 junior lawyers, who will move onto the new capability-based pay system over the coming months if the deal is approved.

The offer would see junior lawyer annual salaries increase to a minimum of around £61,000 up to a maximum of £74,000 in London (£59,000 and £71,000 respectively outside of London). Current salaries for junior lawyers in London are at minimum £52,015 and maximum £62,830 and nationally at minimum is £50,455 and maximum £59,740.

Senior lawyer annual salaries would increase to a minimum of around £74,000 up to a maximum of £83,000 in London (£71,000 and £80,000 respectively outside of London). Current salaries for senior lawyers in London are at minimum £65,647 and maximum £77,456 and nationally are at minimum £62,348 and maximum £73,130.

Pay rises for those not covered by the offer, which includes HR and finance staff as well as legal trainees and paralegals, will be determined by civil service-wide guidance published annually by the Cabinet Office. Next year's pay remit guidance is expected to be published in spring.

Guidance for 2022-23 meant departments could increase average pay for their staff by a maximum of 3%.

'This might be enough to save the organisation'

A senior lawyer who has worked at the GLD for 15 years told CSW the offer is “extremely welcome news for the lucky few that will benefit from it” and “might just be enough to save the organisation”.

But they added: “I feel extremely bad, however, for the Executive Officer and Administrative Officer grades that aren't covered by the deal, despite GLD trying their best.

“There is also the issue that this is all capability-based so there will no doubt be arguments about people's different views of their experience and skills, but I guess we will cross that bridge when we come to it.”

The official said they believed the pay deal does not extend to the lower grades because its goal is to address recruitment and retention issues at G6 and G7 level and not based on the cost-of-living crisis.

“There aren't recruitment and retention issues at EO and AO level, which is why the pay deal didn't apply to them,” they said.

“This is obviously appalling industrial relations but essentially the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury are saying we aren't going to pay these guys more simply because we don't have to".

In December, leaked figures from the GLD’s Civil Service People Survey 2022 results showed almost a third of government lawyers were thinking about leave their jobs within a year. Only 9% said they were happy with their pay and benefits.

Writing for CSW the same month, McGibbon described recruitment and retention as one of the biggest challenges facing GLD in 2023, and said the department would be "improving pay" to address this.

The GLD has been pursuing a pay business case with the Cabinet Office and Treasury for several years to improve pay and overcome recruitment issues at the department. A deal fell through in 2020 when Sir Jonathan Jones resigned as head of the department. 

'Slap in the face'

The FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, said it “recognises the benefits the proposals could bring to many staff” but it is “extremely disappointed” that over a third of the workforce has been excluded from the offer.

In a message to members, seen by CSW, the union added: “FDA has consistently campaigned for a pay business case to address pay issues for all staff in GLD, and the fact this business case excludes junior legal staff and staff in non-lawyer roles is a slap in the face for them and all of their hard work.

“We have made it clear to GLD that we are unhappy with this outcome and we want to be clear to members that FDA has not had any input into this decision to exclude non-lawyer staff from the business case and we do not support it.”

McGibbon acknowledged this disappointment in her letter to officials in the department.

“Whilst this is a positive achievement covering 65% of colleagues below the SCS, I am sorry that it falls short of our full case, which sought significant improvements for all colleagues,” she said.

“The executive team and I know how disappointing this will be to many of you and we share that disappointment. I want to assure you that we pushed hard for a deal which covered everyone – that partly accounts for the delay to securing the offer. But ultimately, it was clear that this was the best overall outcome we were going to get this year, particularly in the current public sector pay climate.”

“Every role in our department is vital to providing our legal services to government and, depending on next year’s pay remit, we will continue to press for improvements for those not covered by this offer,” she wrote. 

All non-SCS staff who are not covered by the offer will be eligible for a pay rise under the cross-civil service guidance from April 2023. Moving the date forward from August 2023 was part of the department’s case for reform, McGibbon said.

“I want to thank you all for your patience whilst we have been negotiatied this deal, particularly against a backdrop of growing pressures on the cost of living for many,” she added.

McGibbon said the department will be seeking agreement on the offer and its terms with trade unions.

The FDA memo to members said the union was not consulted on the details of the current business case prior to it being approved by ministers and it has not yet started any negotiations with the department.

The GLD has been approached for comment.

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