Sunak accused of spreading 'misinformation' over civil service pay

Reference to “independent pay review body process” shows "lack of understanding", union chief says
Rishi Sunak leaves No.10 for PMQs yesterday. Photo: Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire

Rishi Sunak has been accused of spreading “misinformation” after suggesting decisions about civil service pay rises are supported by an “independent pay review body process”.

The head of the Prospect union said the PM’s suggestion that civil service pay settlements were “fair and affordable” thanks to the involvement of independent bodies showed a “staggering lack of understanding” of the process.

Sunak was challenged on last week’s offer of a 4.5% pay rise for most civil servants during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. 

SNP MP Stuart McDonald asked the PM: "My constituent Lisa, and her civil service colleagues, have worked tirelessly and with distinction during some of the most challenging times. But she's fed up with ministers patting them on the back, all the while imposing derisory 2% and now 4.5% pay rises despite years of pay restraint and now double digit inflation.

“She asks simply: 'Why should I keep working for a UK government that treats its workers with such contempt?' So, will the prime minister stop with the myths and excuses and start negotiating a fair deal with the unions?”

The government awarded average pay rises of 2-3% for staff below the senior civil service in 2022-23, despite trade unions refusing to agree to the deal.

Unions have been pushing for ministers to negotiate the 2022-23 offer as well as for a higher pay rise in 2023-24.

Responding to McDonald’s question, Sunak said: “We have a well-established independent pay review body process for making sure that we can have pay settlements that are fair and affordable and I am very pleased that we have reached agreement with many unions on those pay settlements and I hope that those members vote in support of them.”

However, there is no independent pay review body that makes recommendations on pay in the delegated grades of the civil service.

Pay adjustments for senior civil servants are informed by the Senior Salaries Review Body. However, in past years the government has disregarded the SSRB’s recommendations on the basis that it would be unfair for senior officials to get a higher pay rise than their colleagues below the SCS.

Sunak's statement appeared to refer to the public sector more broadly, where several pay review bodies make recommendations on awards for groups such as NHS staff and police. 

Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said the PM’s comments showed a “staggering lack of understanding” of the pay-review process.

“Unless his government will negotiate seriously on fair pay, more civil service strikes are inevitable. It must also explain why it continues to treat civil servants worse than everyone else in the public sector,” Clancy said.

“It is time for the government to end the misinformation, get around the table and make civil servants a serious offer.”

The FDA union announced yesterday that it will soon hold its first ballot on industrial action over pay in more than 40 years.

PCS is meanwhile continuing to escalate strikes over pay and conditions, announcing further walkouts this week at the Department for Work and Pensions and the Passport Office.

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