Ministers have today been warned that failing to end the pay cap in the civil service will undermine public services after a survey found over 80% of Whitehall officials are unhappy with current pay deals.
The poll of almost 2,000 public sector leaders by the FDA union found that 83% are unhappy with the overall pay arrangements in the civil service, while more than two-thirds (68%) said there were recruitment or retention difficulties in their department or organisation.
Ahead of tomorrow's Queen’s Speech setting out the government’s plan for the next parliamentary session, around 86% of those polled do not believe that their organisation is sufficiently resourced to meet the challenges facing it in the year ahead, while almost a third (30%) would like to leave the civil service ‘as soon as possible’.
Over half (60%) say morale has decreased over the course of the last year, with only 6% feeling more positive about their role than 12 months ago.
The FDA said the findings were a warning to both chancellor Philip Hammond and the new Cabinet Office minister Damian Green about the risk faced to services by current pay restraint.
Public sector pay was originally frozen for two years from 2010. This was then changed to a 1% cap on annual pay rises, which is still in place and was due – under pre-election Conservative plans – to remain in place until at least 2020.
Former Conservative MP Gavin Barwell, who was appointed as Theresa May’s chief of staff after losing his Croydon Central seat to Labour, has pointed to public sector pay restraint as a key reason for dwindling Tory support in the general election campaign, while health secretary Jeremy Hunt has hinted at talks with the Treasury to alter the policy.
Combined with other changes to their terms and conditions, some civil servants have now experienced a real terms pay cut of over 20%, FDA general secretary Dave Penman highlighted.
“Our survey found that a third of civil servants say they would like to leave the civil service as soon as possible. Even more concerning is the view expressed by 86% of respondents that their department is not sufficiently resourced to meet the challenges it will face in the year ahead,” Penman said in a letter to Hammond and Green.
“Members also highlight problems in recruiting new staff and retaining those who are recruited. The universal reason provided is dissatisfaction with ‘pay’… Failure to recruit and the high turnover of staff is wasteful and inefficient and, in many areas, is getting in the way of successful delivery.”
The FDA is urging the government to signal a pay reset in the Queen's Speech. This should include the withdrawal and revision of the civil service pay guidance for delegated grades which commits employers to the 1% pay cap, and the publication of new guidance alongside the government’s response to the Senior Salaries Review Body. The union also reiterated its call for a new spending review to ensure that all departments are properly resourced to keep Britain’s vital public services running.
Penman warned that there is “a real risk that the continuation of the government’s current approach on civil service pay could seriously undermine public service delivery”.
Prospect union are also calling for the current pay guidance to be scrapped, saying it is not "fit for purpose" and must be revised following the general election.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Prospect's general secretary Mike Clancy wrote: "Prospect is aware that the “remit guidance” for departments and agencies was published by the then government in the hours before purdah.
"We believe the general election sent a clear message to the incoming government that the electorate wanted a government which invested in public services and believed that public servants should be treated fairly by ending the 1% cap on public sector pay. In that context we believe that the guidance issued to departments and agencies is not fit for purpose and needs to be revised to reflect the will of the electorate and the needs of the workforce.
The letter continued: "Prospect is seeking the ending of the arbitrary 1% cap on pay to allow meaningful negotiations to take place and to ensure that the civil service and wider public sector is able recruit, retain and motivate the skilled staff it needs. We also believe that there is the need for a truly independent and evidence led review of pay and reward for the civil service and the wider public sector."