‘Kick in the teeth’: Unions slam 2% pay rise for senior civil servants

SSRB report finds SCS pay has fallen in real terms by 11% since 2012.
Photo: Kevin Schneider/Pixabay

By Tevye Markson

20 Jul 2022

Unions have accused the government of treating senior civil servants “with contempt”, after the Cabinet Office rejected a recommendation for an across-the-board minimum 3% pay rise this year.

The Cabinet Office announced yesterday that senior officials would get a 2% pay rise, rather than the 3% recommended by the Senior Salaries Review Board.

In comparison, senior leaders in the army, judiciary and health service have been granted minimum increases of between 3 and 4.5%.

“The government has yet again decided to treat civil service leaders – its own employees – with contempt, by setting them apart from other senior public sector workers," FDA assistant general secretary Lucille Thirlby said.

“A 2% pay increase is, in fact, a significant pay cut, and it is an extraordinary decision when you consider that other public sector leaders, who civil servants work alongside, will receive increases of between 3 and 4.5%.”

“Ministers had a choice, and they have yet again decided to hold back SCS pay without any plan to resolve the chronic issues in pay structures. It is a decision they will come to regret."

This year's decision follows several years of pay restraint. The SSRB's annual report, published alongside the government's response announcing the pay award, found average salaries in the SCS fell by 1.5% in the year to 2021 and have fallen in real terms by 11% since 2012.

Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, added: “Our civil servants and the country they serve deserve better. After a decade of pay austerity, this is yet again a huge real terms pay cut and a kick in the teeth for staff.”

The SSRB recommended a 3% pay rise, plus a 0.5% increase to address pay anomalies and up pay band minimums, in its report, which was sent to the Cabinet Office on 28 June.

"In making our pay recommendations this year, we are mindful of the financial constraints faced by the government and of pay settlements in the rest of the economy. We have not therefore sought to match inflation or indeed to even approach it. Nearly everyone is going to be poorer this year," the SSRB report said.

"Nevertheless, having reviewed the evidence, we believe that a 2 to 2.5 per cent pay increase is insufficient to manage the risks to recruitment, retention and morale. It feels unreasonable after a long period of pay restraint and at a time when inflation is so high."

Despite this advice, the Cabinet Office chose to give a 2% pay award, plus 1% for addressing anomalies and raising minimums, which it says will mean civil servants get an average pay increase of 3% this year.

Thirlby said the government had “chosen to ignore the evidence-based, strategic advice" of the SSRB, and instead taken an “arbitrary, short-term decision, just as they did with the pay remit for delegated grades in March”.

The government told departments in March they could give an average increase pay award of 2% this year to non-senior civil servants, topped up by a further 1% where they can successfully argue the extra bump will help with priorities such as staff retention and productivity.

Clancy suggested ministers were prioritising themselves above civil servants, pointing to the government's approval the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority’s recommendation to increase MPs’ pay this year while downgrading the SSRB’s advice.

“It’s clear they value themselves far more than those who work for them,” he said.

The 2% pay rise comes amid threats to cut tens of civil service thousands of jobs over the next three years.

Clancy said the pay award, plus ongoing plans to cut one in five civil service jobs, “flies in the face of the government’s commitment to reform the civil service by investing in capability and rewarding knowledge, skills and experience”.

The SSRB, addressing the headcount reduction plans in its report, said it agrees with the government that there needs to be a smaller and more focused SCS but this should be done in a “targeted and strategic way”.

The report found average salaries in the SCS fell by 1.5% in the year to 2021 and have fallen in real terms by 11% since 2012.

The PCS union has called for a 10% pay rise this year for civil servants and is planning to ballot members for strike action later this year over pay and job cuts.

In response to yesterday's pay award announcements, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It’s an outrage that millions of our public sector colleagues have been told to accept half the rate of inflation, and it puts into further shocking focus the fact our members – the government’s own workforce – are being told to accept even less. 

“Brave workers in a number of unions, including within PCS, are already taking action over intolerable pay and our members will be balloted to join them in the autumn. We’ll be talking to our colleagues in other unions about organising co-ordinated national strike action.” 

The Cabinet Office said double-digit pay increases would be directly against the interest of public sector workers as sustained higher levels of inflation would have a far bigger impact on people’s real incomes in the long run.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The pay awards this year strike a careful balance between recognising the vital importance of public sector workers, whilst delivering value for the taxpayer and not increasing the country’s debt further.

"Overall increases in senior civil service pay are in line with the guidance set out for other grades, ensuring fairness in remuneration across the civil service.”

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