SCS pay: unions slam ‘smoke and mirrors’ Cabinet Office plan

FDA and Prospect say that focus on two government professions would not address systematic failures of the pay framework for senior civil servants

Photo: PA

By Richard Johnstone

17 May 2019

Cabinet Office proposals to introduce higher specialist pay rates for senior civil servants working in two Whitehall professions has been slammed as "smoke and mirrors" by trade unions, who have called on the government not to ignore the need for more wide-ranging salary increases.

Under plans revealed by government this week, senior officials working in some finance and digital roles will become the first to benefit from enhanced pay rates this year, according to a document submitted to the Senior Salaries Review Board. The submission, which informs the SSRB’s deliberations on senior civil service pay for 2019-20, revealed that the government plans to introduce new target pay ranges for some SCS roles in the "more mature" government professions, with finance and digital, data and technology part of the first wave.

This would represent the first step towards implementing the proposed reforms to split SCS pay rates into three groupings, with finance and DDaT highlighted as being among “small numbers of roles in areas where the civil service needs to tailor its approach to compete effectively with the external market for senior, specialist skills”.


However, two civil service trade unions have warned that the proposal would not address the wider problems in SCS pay.

FDA assistant general secretary Lucille Thirlby told CSW that “overall feeling is this is smoke and mirrors”.

She highlighted that there is no new money being put into the system under the plans (detailed left) which she said was “the core cause of the systematic failures of the SCS pay framework”.

She added: “The specialist pay table highlights the two-tier nonsense of new recruits being brought in at a specialist pay range without having to make the case for specialist pay, however, departments will have to make robust business cases for existing civil servants to receive specialist pay as additional payments.”

She questioned whether the use of professions was the right basis for SCS pay reform, observing that only one civil service specialism – DDaT – had fully developed career frameworks.

“We believe that the large number of pay anomalies in the senior civil service framework should be resolved through a direct process funded over and above the main pay award,” she added.

Garry Graham, the deputy general secretary at Prospect, agreed that the SCS pay system needed to be properly funded to must ensure that staff are able to progress through their pay ranges.

“We know as a result of the Judicial Review taken by Prospect, FDA and PCS last year that ministers were advised by the Cabinet Office that pay increases and levels in the civil service across all grades were lagging behind their private sector and broader public sector comparators,” he said. “The narrow focus on SCS commercial and digital roles is a sticking plaster solution and ignores the broader need for pay reform.

“If the civil service is to be able to recruit, retain and motivate the skilled workforce it needs for the future, provision needs to be made as part of the coming Spending Round to increase base pay. STEM skills, which underpin sound policy advice in many areas and effective implementation of policy, are increasingly scarce and there is a real battle for talent amongst public sector and private sector employers. With wages rising by 3.4% across the broader economy simply shuffling the cards or reorganising the deck chairs is not an effective strategy.”

The government’s wider SCS pay reforms, first proposed in 2018, are intended to reward "high-performing” officials and encourage people to stay in their jobs longer.

The majority of civil service professions would fall under Group A. A small number of what the document calls “market-facing” professions would be eligible for higher "guideline" pay ranges in Group B to ensure government is able to recruit in demand skills.

Group C would be made up of niche roles, particular to just one or a few departments. These could include roles in medicine, inspectors of education and tax professionals.

Read the most recent articles written by Richard Johnstone - Building the future: Steven Boyd on making government property work for the civil service

Share this page