Unions raise concerns over SCS pay plan as minister calls for greater link to performance

Unions say SSRB submission shows government isn't valuing staff, while MPs get a 31% pay rise

Photo: PA

Unions have criticised the latest senior civil service pay submission that has indicated the annual award for top officials is likely to remain tightly controlled in this year’s settlement, and included a ministerial call for more performance-related pay.

The Cabinet Office said it would be recommending a similar approach to SCS pay for 2020-21 as it did last year in its latest submission to the Senior Salaries Review Body – guidance union said showed the government was taking its most senior officials for granted.

Pay restraint and an emphasis on performance-related pay awards are the central themes in the evidence the department submitted yesterday to the SSRB, which makes recommendations on SCS pay.


The 112-page document said SCS pay rises should not exceed given to civil servants at lower grades, which will be set out in annual pay remit guidance later in the year.

It said it recommended the SSRB take a “similar approach” to 2019-20, when a 1% increase to the paybill was used to increase general pay and raise minimum salary bands, and departments used a ring-fenced pot of 0.9% to address pay progression and anomalies. The total pay SCS pay award came to 2% last year, slightly less than the 2.2% recommended by the SSRB to bring it in line with guidance for the whole civil service.

It said such an award would help to tackle several “problems” within the SCS – in particular, to “strengthen the link between capability and pay”.

Unions have objected strongly to the recommendations, and in particular to comments made in the foreword to the guidance by Cabinet Office minister Lord Agnew, who said the pay structure should focus on “rewarding those who build their professional and leadership capability and get things done”.

In the document’s foreword, Agnew said the civil service would “need to be more ambitious and go further than ever before” to boost diversity, develop professional frameworks and “tackle unnecessary departmental turnover”.

And it must “strengthen the link between high performance and reward, to recognise those who deliver, while managing the performance, and ultimately the removal, of those who do not perform to the required standards”, he warned.

Lucille Thirlby, assistant general secretary of the FDA union for civil servants, said the tone of Agnew’s foreword was “concerning”.

“Rather than tackling the fundamental issue of a broken pay system, it works from the premise that the civil service doesn’t have the right skills, mentality and values to deliver the government’s priorities,” she said.

“Ministers need to stop espousing reform for reform’s sake, and recognise that transformative government is delivered through policy, not reorganisation.”

Evidence from the Cabinet Office and unions will be used to inform SCS pay recommendations that the SSRB will make later this year. The government will then decide whether to take the recommendations forward.

In its submission, the Cabinet Office said rather than awarding a flat rate pay rise, money should once again be directed to raising the minimum salary thresholds for SCS grades, which it said were “still too low” compared to other areas of the public sector.

It proposed increasing the salary minima for deputy directors from £70,000 to £71,000; for directors from £92,000 to £93,000; and for director generals from £115,000 to £120,000. The top end of the salary range for each should not change, it said.

And the department said it would carry out detailed analysis over the next year to inform its plans to boost skills and capabilities and tie these more closely to pay progression. Such an award would help to improve diversity, reward experience and good performance, encourage professional development and reward the development of leaders, it said.

In the document, the Cabinet Office said the government “believes that the majority of any award to the SCS should be targeted to address current and future problems and priorities, such as high turnover rather than being set as a flat or average increase for all SCS”.

The department said it would continue its approach of recycling money saved from restricting pay to fund structural reforms such as raising pay minima and other targeted increases.

But Thirlby said: “The government is seriously deluded if it thinks the implementation of a pay progression system and other pay framework changes can be done through unevidenced savings with no real investment.”

She said: “Civil servants have faced a decade of pay freezes and restraint, yet the government’s SSRB submission does little to argue for the investment which is so vitally needed… For all the warm words, yet again there is no change proposed in its recommendations to the SSRB.

“The government makes no reference to the morale or working hours of its senior civil servants, despite this being a critical issue. It seems as an employer, it continues to take its senior leaders for granted.”

‘Galling’: MPs given 3.1% pay rise

Thirbly said the submission to the SSRB was made “even more galling” by the fact that it came the same day as it was announced MPs’ pay would increase by 3.1%.

The increase, announced by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, is above inflation and will take MPs' base pay from £79,468 to £81,932. MPs’ wage rises are automatic as they are tied to average wage rises, meaning they are not put to a vote.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It is a disgrace that MPs are getting a 3.1% increase when government workers are subject to a de-facto pay cap.

“Instead of rewarding well-paid politicians, the government should be rewarding its own hard working staff who have dealt brilliantly with everything from Brexit uncertainty, to securing our borders, helping people access benefits and keeping our courts running,” he said.

He added: “With the possibility of coronavirus causing disruption to vital services, civil servants and those in related areas will once again be in the front line, making sure the machinery of society continues to function."

Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said that civil servants must receive a pay increase at least in line with that of MPs.

“The announcement that MPs will receive a 3.1% pay increase will be viewed with surprise by many civil servants whose experience has been average pay increases capped at 2% over the past year," he said.

"If MPs are to avoid being accused of hypocrisy- they need to ensure the staff who serve and support the government receive pay awards of at least this level this year.”

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