Senior civil servants get lowest public sector wage boost as government reveals response to pay bodies

Cabinet Office reduces recommended pay increase from 2.2% to 2% so that paybill increase is in line with delegated pay guidance for departments

Photo: PA

By Richard Johnstone

22 Jul 2019

Senior civil servants are to receive a 2% pay award after the Cabinet Office rejected one of the recommendations proposed by the salary review board for senior Whitehall officials.

The Senior Salary Review Board today recommended that high-level officials should receive a 2.2% award, made up of a number of elements of the civil service paybill: a 0.9% increase for pay progression and anomalies, 0.2% set aside for increases at the minimum levels of the SCS pay bill, and a 1% increase for all SCS not benefiting from the minima increases (with anyone benefiting by less than 1% from the minima increases ‘topped up’ to a 1% increase) and 0.2% set aside to implement any specialist pay proposals.

The SSRB is one of a number of pay review bodies to publish their recommendations today. The Cabinet Office's part-acceptance leaves civil servants receiving the lowest pay increase across the public sector, although it is higher than last year’s 1.5%.


In its submission to the SSRB, the Cabinet Office revealed plans to introduce higher specialist pay rates for senior civil servants in finance and digital professions in the first part of an overhaul to set salaries based on specific skills and roles across government.

However, in his response to the SSRB report today, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington said the government would accept all recommendations from the SSRB, apart from profession-based pay, in order to match the SCS paybill to the 2% for civil servants at lower grades in delegated guidance.

“The overall figure should be limited to an average 2% increase in line with the figure contained in the delegated pay remit guidance,” Lidington said. “The reduction of 0.2% will be taken from the money set aside for specialist pay which we will not be implementing this pay year.”

Lidington said that the government would now undertake further work on developing capability-based pay progression, as well as working on the development of specialist pay plans and reviewing the SCS performance management system as a priority.

“The government will continue to engage closely with the SSRB to help develop our proposals further and invites the review body to contribute towards the further review of the Senior Civil Service pay framework including the commitments made above,” Lidington said.

In its report, the SSRB said it had been “useful to see the emerging plans for the development of a new SCS framework”.

It added: “However, we still feel there is a shortage of concrete proposals for reform. We would like to see greater pace and more commitment to a timetable for implementing change.

“We are additionally concerned that the current proposals may result in an overcomplicated system that will create new problems and lead to further demoralisation of the workforce. We believe that the biggest current problem remains the lack of any form of pay progression in the SCS. We therefore recommend that the government develops and invests in a credible, robust and simple pay progression system for the SCS as a priority.”

The SSRB also recommended a 2.2% per cent consolidated increase to base pay for senior military figures, but this was rejected by the Cabinet Office, which will also implement a 2% increase for senior officers.

However, a number of other public servants will receive a higher increase. Teachers will receive a 2.75% increase, lower-level soldiers will receive a 2.9% raise worth £995, hospital consultants and dentists will receive 2.5%, police officers will get  2.5%, and prison officers at least 2.2%.

Announcing the increases in one of her final acts as prime minister, Theresa May, said the awards build on the end of the public sector pay cap in 2017.

“Whether it’s keeping us safe, saving lives or educating the next generation, our public sector workers deserve this pay rise in recognition of the brilliant job they do on a daily basis,” she said.

Chancellor Philip Hammond, who announced he will quit the Treasury on Wednesday if Boris Johnson becomes prime minister tomorrow, added: “Public sector workers deliver Britain’s world class public services and should be properly rewarded which is why I’m confirming a second year of above inflation pay rises today.

“This is in recognition of the hard work of millions of people, including soldiers, teachers and doctors, and will help us recruit and retain the best staff. We are able to afford these pay rises because our balanced approach means we have reduced our debt while investing in public services, including pay.”

However, unions said that the announcements showed that the government had singled out the civil service for harsh treatment on pay.

FDA assistant general secretary Lucille Thirlby said that many members would not even see a 2% increase, given the different elements in the award.

"This isn’t thrifty saving: it’s own-goaling. The government pursues the short-term to its own detriment, and fixating on the yearly budget is no way to invest in the future. Focussing on annual pay awards is not the way to guarantee good outcomes or secure the best staff,” she said.

"The government needs to drop its penny-pinching policy, and focus on proper investment in pay and changes to the pensions tax regime. If we're to have a world-class SCS, it can't be run on a shoestring."

Prospect’s deputy general secretary Garry Graham said that “yet again an opportunity has been missed” to improve pay.

“The terms of reference set by the government for the review body have meant that its hands have been largely tied and it can do little more than highlight problems and identify issues which need to be addressed over the longer term. The government has effectively capped the SSRB's recommendations at 2% – again singling out the civil service for the harshest of treatment not only in comparison to the private sector but also the wider public sector," he said.

“At a time when the government has never been so reliant on the civil service, and MPs themselves received 2.7% in April, the government's approach to pay both for the senior civil service and for delegated grades will be difficult for many to stomach – especially when the coming months are likely to be even more testing.

“Any incoming prime minister needs to stop kicking the can down the road, recognise the invaluable support provided by the civil service and ensure that staff are rewarded fairly.”

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