Civil service leaders Jeremy Heywood and John Manzoni have responded to a barrage of online criticism from officials over pay and terms.
November's government-wide Spending Review promised that ministers would look again at several aspects of public sector pay and terms, with the accompanying document saying the Treasury would consult on "further cross-public sector action on exit payment terms" and pledging "targeted reforms in areas where the public sector still has far more generous rights than the private sector".
It had already been announced that the 1% cap on public sector payrises – which followed a two-year pay freeze – would remain in force until the end of the decade, a move the Office for Budget Responsibility says has helped to reduce the need for job losses.
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On the day of the Spending Review, Heywood – the Cabinet secretary and head of the civil service – posted a blog written with civil service chief executive Manzoni and Treasury permanent secretary Nicholas Macpherson explaining what the latest departmental settlements would mean for civil servants.
In it, the three leaders paid tribute to the civil service as "a precious national asset", and said the organisation's "biggest asset remains its people". But while it again stressed that there was "no planned target for reductions in the numbers of civil servants" as a result of the latest spending cuts, the three leaders sought to explain the government's position on pay and terms.
The post on the GOV.UK website prompted an overwhelmingly negative reaction from officials, however. Of the 199 comments posted as of December 9, more than 90% expressed a negative sentiment (180 comments), while just two comments could be interpreted as positive and just under 9% (17 comments) were either neutral or posing questions.
One commenter, Paul G, said the Spending Review was the "worst day of the year for the civil service", accusing the government of seeking to "punish their employees", while another, Deborah said she had spent "most of my life providing a professional and caring service but now feel that no one really cares how these changes are affecting staff".
Stuart W added: "We reduce the workforce by 20%, put forward 22,000 [...] ideas to reduce waste, move towards a far greater digitised service, come in on many target areas and yet we are rewarded with a 1% pay increase for the next 4 years. Whilst I understand that we have to do our bit to put the country back into a better fiscal position, I find that this article is somewhat misguided in its approach."
"Fairly and sensitively managed"
In an update posted today, Heywood and Manzoni (pictured) acknowledged the scale of the criticism, but sought to emphasise other areas in which the civil service remains ahead of the private sector.
"Many of the comments you have posted focus on the review’s implications for Civil Service jobs, pay, terms and conditions," they wrote. "We recognise many of the concerns you have raised and would like to address some of them here, while restating why we believe the civil service continues to be a rewarding and exciting place to work."
The pair said that the "ongoing fiscal challenge" means that the civil service "will continue to get smaller". But they say they expect the reductions to "slow down" over the Spending Review period.
"There is no 'right size' for the Civil Service – it is driven by the needs of the government, to continue delivering high-quality public services within the budgets that are available," they added.
"Each department is taking responsibility, through its Single Departmental Plan, for assessing its own priorities and the workforce needed to deliver them. If headcount reductions are necessary, they will be fairly and sensitively managed, and achieved, as far as possible, on a voluntary basis and through natural wastage."
They also responded to a number of comments highlighting the disparity between the 10% payrise recently awarded to MPs and the ongoing 1% cap on payrises implemented across the civil service.
Manzoni and Heywood wrote: "Some comments have compared this settlement with the pay award to MPs. That was determined by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) in a completely unrelated process, independent of parliament or the Government - though it should be noted that, in future, MPs’ earnings will be linked to public sector pay."
On terms and conditions, the pair emphasised the civil service's focus on flexible working, job-sharing and "generous annual leave" which they say "often sets us apart from other industries".
They added: "While we have some distance to travel before we are fully representative of the people we serve, our increasing diversity compares favourably with much of the private sector. And our family-friendly policies, including the opportunities to work flexibly or use flexi-time to achieve a work-life balance or meet caring commitments, are a valued part of working here.
"For example, the maternity leave entitlement far exceeds the statutory minimum. HMRC, to take just one department, has introduced other family-friendly practices. They have developed and implemented adoption, surrogacy and foster-care policies, and around 34% of its people work part-time, while many more have informal flexible working arrangements. We know that staff really value this kind of flexibility and many have told us that they would not have been able to continue with their careers without it."
The Whitehall chiefs also stress the annual time available to civil servants for learning and development, and say they are still aiming for the civil service to be an "employer of choice".
"Responding to the challenge of the Spending Review, and building on what we’ve achieved during the last five years, we are determined that the civil service must remain an attractive employer for those who want to serve the public and the government they have elected," they said.
Since the Spending Review, it has been reported that the Treasury is considering reducing the maximum payment for voluntary redundancy across the public sector workforce to 15 months' salary, down from the current 21 months. Ministers have already announced plans to cap redundancy payouts to £95,000, in a move unions have argued will hit long-serving staff on modest salaries.
The OBR predicted last month that 100,000 public sector jobs were likely to go by the end of the decade, although it cautioned that its estimate had been conducted "in the absence of specific workforce plans".