The Cabinet Office has urged the salary review body for senior civil servants to focus pay increases on addressing recruitment problems rather than providing an across-the-board wage boost.
In its submission to the Senior Salaries Review Body’s work to decide on the 2019-20 pay award for top civil servants, the Cabinet Office said the headline pay rise should be no higher, on average, than that agreed for delegated grades through the annual pay remit guidance.
It also said the last Spending Review’s 1% budget for average basic pay increases would still apply in 2019-20, as would the recommendation to “take a balanced approach to public spending”.
Last year, the government rejected the SSRB’s recommendation for a 2.5% increase to the pay bill for senior officials, instead reducing the package to 1.5% to keep it in line with the average increase for delegated pay rates. Civil service trade unions subsequently launched a judicial review of the delegated pay guidance, saying it had not undergone adequate consultation, but the challenge was unsuccessful.
For the 2019-20 award, the Cabinet Office said it “recognised that public sector workers deserve to be fairly rewarded for the vital work they do, and seeks to ensure the overall package remains fair and competitive”.
The said that public sector pay was competitive when compared to the private sector, but conceded that both base salary and total remuneration for all SCS pay bands were “lower than that for private sector equivalents [and] this differential has increased over time, and increases with seniority within the SCS”.
Despite this, the Cabinet Office said “the majority of any award to the SCS should be targeted to address current and future problems and priorities, rather than being set as a flat or average increase for all SCS”.
It added that department should be able to use pay flexibility to address their particular policy and operational priorities.
“Last year’s award was targeted towards minima increases at each grade, tackling pay anomalies which targeted high performers who sit towards the bottom of the pay ranges, and, within the 1% general uplift, many departments chose to further target their award to address specific department based issues and to target high performers."
Trade unions slam 'glacial approach' to SCS pay
Trade unions have also submitted their evidence to the SSRB. Prospect's deputy general secretary Garry Graham told CSW he was frustrated by the “glacial approach” to SCS pay.
“We need ambition in terms in what we do in pay and we need a level of pace in terms of decision making, and I’m yet to be convinced we’ve got either of those things.”
Graham said the civil service was “very much at crisis point”. He noted that in the latest civil service people survey, a quarter staff said they intended to leave their jobs either immediately or within the next year, and those figures have been consistent for a number of years.
“Any HR director getting those results for their organisation – particularly consistently – would be doing one of two things: either beating a path to the chief exec and saying, 'These results are disastrous for us and we need to make some change here,' or drafting the letter of resignation.”
He said the judicial review of the Treasury guidance for delegated pay rates outside the SCS had revealed the Cabinet Office “agrees with a significant amount of our analysis”.
“We saw in the judicial review that the advice that went from the Cabinet Office to the minister pointed out that not only pay levels but pay increases at all levels were worse in the civil service than not just in the private sector, which you might expect, but the broader of the public sector," he said.
“That was the advice that went to the minister. So if one part of our campaign has been successful, it has been persuading the Cabinet Office to realise there’s an issue here.”
He said action was needed to address pay in both the SCS and the wider delegated grades. “I think the best way of getting a deal for our members in delegated grades and SCS at the moment is to concentrate on the pay remit guidance and increasing the flexibility available under that.”
Graham also called on civil service leaders to demonstrate they are standing up for their staff in pay talks. “We’re saying to them: what are you prepared to do to demonstrate that you're standing up not only for your organisation, but the staff who work in your organisation?”
He said the NHS, police and local government all received higher pay awards than civil servants in 2018-19. “What I can identify [in those organisation] is senior officials and politicians who have been prepared to stand up on behalf of their staff, and that has been notably lacking in the civil service.
“We expect organisational leaders to be leaders, not simply administrators, and part of that is being able to demonstrate to us that you're standing up on behalf of staff in your organisation.”
The FDA trade union told CSW it had also contributed evidence to the SSRB.
FDA assistant general secretary Lucille Thirlby told CSW that the continual use of exceptions and allowances to address anomalies or market realities “is the clearest indication that the whole system needs reform and investment”. T
She added: “The danger of this piecemeal approach is that it just creates further anomalies, and breeds resentment from groups of staff who do not benefit from the targeting of pay supplements.
"The reality is the base pay for the SCS is inadequate. Across all grades, it lags significantly behind market rates.”
She also called on the civil service to solve longstanding issues with pay similar to the NHS, which has agreed a three-year pay deal worth 6.5% over three years.
"Last year, I said the government was only putting a sticking plaster over the open wound of ineffective SCS pay structures,” Thirlby stated. “We're disappointed to say that the proposals show a continuing real commitment to this sticking plaster approach. The system for determining awards is still opaque, and the full equality implications of different responses to specialist, niche or “civil service wide” staff have not been thought through or examined.”