Government to roll out higher pay for specialists in SCS

Plan addresses the "oft cited issue of pay disparity between internally and externally recruited senior civil servants"

Photo: PA

By Richard Johnstone

15 May 2019

The Cabinet Office has revealed plans to introduce higher specialist pay rates for senior civil servants working in two Whitehall professions, as part of an overhaul to set salaries based on specific skills and roles across government.

Senior officials working in some finance and digital roles will become the first to benefit from enhanced pay rates this year, according to a document submitted to the Senior Salaries Review Board. The submission, which informs the SSRB’s deliberations on Senior Civil Service pay for 2019-20, has set out how the Cabinet Office plans to implement proposed reforms to split SCS pay rates into three groupings.

The reforms, first proposed in 2018, are intended to reward "high-performing” officials and encourage people to stay in their jobs longer.

The majority of civil service professions would fall under Group A. A small number of what the document calls “market-facing” professions would be eligible for higher "guideline" pay ranges in Group B to ensure government is able to recruit in demand skills.

Group C would be made up of niche roles, particular to just one or a few departments. These could include roles in medicine, inspectors of education and tax professionals.

The submission to the SSRB, published on Monday, revealed that the government plans to introduce new target pay ranges for some SCS roles in the "more mature" government professions, with finance and digital, data and technology part of the first wave. 

These are among a “small numbers of roles in areas where the civil service needs to tailor its approach to compete effectively with the external market for senior, specialist skills”, it said.

According to the submission, the focus will be on specialist roles rather than entire professions – DDaT, for example, has identified 7 roles out of 28 that it believes should attract specialist pay.

"It is for these particular ‘market facing’ and ‘niche’ roles that the government intends to introduce specialist pay arrangements. Not all professions will be market facing and, within those that are, not all roles will be eligible for specialist pay," the Cabinet Office said.


Under the plans, the target pay levels will be set though business cases to be submitted by professions in the spring. Business cases will be expected to set out recruitment problems caused by current pay rates and that the additional pay will be part of “a long term pay solution rather than a tactical fix”.

Once approved, departments will be given flexibility within this year's overall pay award to give pay rises to civil servants in the agreed roles who currently earn less than the proposed range.

Only deputy directors and directors will be eligible for the increases, and not director generals, according to the submission, although this is being kept under review.

Any higher rates of pay will be reviewed regularly, according to the Cabinet Office, with further roles/professions to be considered for a wider rollout in 2020/21. Previous agreements that have used a similar approach – principally the higher pay rates for commercial staff as part of the Government Commercial Organisation – will also be reviewed to ensure consistency with the new plans.

The Cabinet Office acknowledged that it was making “a significant strategic shift in the approach to SCS pay structures” to enable it “to attract and retain key, scarce skills from the external market and addressing the oft-cited issue of pay disparity between internally and externally recruited SCS undertaking the same type of role, which is generally starker in specialist roles”.

Performance management

The submission to the SSRB has also confirmed the end of the controversial "guided distribution" performance management system for senior civil servants introduced by former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.

The previous system required departments to assess senior civil servants as "top", "achieving" or "low" performas, and set proportional quotas for each. But the latest SCS performance management information, which the Cabinet Office published last month, confirmed that while the groupings would stay, “as of 2018/19, forced distribution has been removed for the SCS”.

In the SSRB submission, the Cabinet Office said this change came as “the current system of using forced distribution does not always work to correctly identify and address poor performance, as shown in the findings of the poor performance review”.

It added: “Any SCS who exceeds their stretching objectives could be assessed as top performing without being constrained by a 25% cap, and only individuals who have been identified as being genuinely under-performing will be placed in the bottom box.”

 A new performance management system will be launched in 2020-21, based on research into how other organisations and sectors manage performance, as well as a pilot of the government's new approach, being carried out now in the Department for Education.

The pilot system has four main elements: monthly coaching and performance conversations with line managers; central and leadership objectives set alongside personal work objectives; reward for strong performance, with up to 45% of SCS eligible for in-year bonuses of up to £5,000; and data through a performance management database to record performance levels and what the guidance calls “talent grid positions”. This information is regularly shared with the DfE leadership team and Cabinet Office.

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