Jeremy Heywood: Civil servants are “realistic” about the need for pay restraint

Civil servants not facing "doom and gloom" cabinet secretary tells CSW, as he hails "fantastic results” in spite of austerity

Civil servants are “realistic” about the need for ongoing pay restraint, Sir Jeremy Heywood has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with Civil Service World, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service praised the “fantastic results” achieved by officials at a time of tight resources.

He also said there was “no precise calculation” for determining what proportion of the next round of spending cuts would be met by reducing staff numbers.

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Asked by CSW whether officials could expect to see light at the end of the tunnel following the announcement that pay rises across the public sector are to be capped at 1% until at least 2019-20, the cabinet secretary said:

“I don’t think it’s right to talk in terms of ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, because I think most civil servants really enjoy their work, are proud to call themselves civil servants.

“And, of course, they’re realistic that pay isn’t as much as they would like in some parts of the country. Everyone would like to get paid more.

“But people understand that the country’s been going through a tough time, we’ve had to get the deficit down and they also know there’s a trade-off, to some extent, between the amount of money that individuals can get paid and the number of staff that are employed.

“So of course people realise it’s been tough, of course they realise that there’s some further austerity ahead and it is going to be tough for the next few years again, but that doesn’t mean to say we’re in a tunnel. We can be very proud of what we’re achieving.”

Heywood also pointed to the results of the 2014 civil service People Survey, which show that while satisfaction with pay and benefits has fallen by 9% since 2009, overall staff morale has risen.

“If anything, morale has gone up over the last few years,” the cabinet secretary said.

“So this is not doom and gloom. Of course people would like to get paid more for their families and themselves. But people are very realistic, very committed professionally, and are producing fantastic results.”

In his interview with CSW, Heywood also spoke about the “whole menu of options” being considered by departments as they planned for further cuts as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review process.

Ahead of the November 25 CSR announcement, chancellor George Osborne has asked unprotected departments to draw up plans for fresh reductions in their resource spending of between 25% and 40%.

The cabinet secretary said: “We haven’t got a sub-target for what each of the individual components will be required to deliver by way of savings, but overall we’re looking for something of the order of £20bn of extra efficiency.

“But that could come through better digital processes, it could come through pay restraint, or it could come through closing down particular lines of work. It’s got to be the whole menu of options.”

He also rejected suggestions that the civil service reform reform agenda – launched by then-Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude in the last parliament – had stalled.

“It’s not off the agenda at all," Heywood said. "We’re not talking about it – we’re just getting on and doing it! We’re being a bit boring, basically, because we’re saying the same thing every time we speak, so people get a bit bored with it. 

"But hopefully they’re listening. So we are doing the three things that I keep constantly saying we’ve got to address: we’ve got to improve our commercial capability, we’ve got to improve our diversity and our talent management, and we’ve got to be the most digital government in the world."

Click here to read CSW’s full interview with Heywood — including the cabinet secretary's reflections on how his role has changed, the future of the civil service reform agenda, digital government, and the Chilcot inquiry

Update: This story was amended on October 19 to clarify that the results above are for the 2014 People Survey. The latest survey is ongoing

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