A High Court decision that the Cabinet Office acted unlawfully in its consultation on the latest changes to the civil service compensation scheme could have negative implications for departmental staff, Whitehall unions have warned.
The PCS union yesterday succeeded in challenging the legitimacy of alterations made to the scheme last year on the grounds that it was excluded from providing input to the proposals, even though it chose not to take part in earlier talks. The Cabinet Office made it a prerequisite that participation would be “taken as a clear commitment” that the government’s proposals would form the basis of new arrangements that unions would then recommend to their members.
The Cabinet Office said it would appeal the judicial review outcome, but if the PCS victory prevails the High Court’s decision could put a question mark over the validity of redundancy packages agreed under the new terms – depending on the judges’ proposed remedy.
An update to members sent out by public sector leaders’ union the FDA, and seen by Civil Service World, said the judgment did not mean that the government had to permanently revert to the CSCS terms in place before the 2016 changes were implemented.
The message said officials were “seeking an urgent meeting” with the Cabinet Office on the implications of the decision, including for those departments and union members who were in the middle of redundancy programmes.
Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said yesterday’s decision had come as a surprise. “Eight unions ultimately reached agreement on the revised 2016 terms,” he said.
“The judgment appears to uphold a narrow point of law in terms of consultation – with PCS claiming they were debarred from talks. This was not Prospect’s understanding and we encouraged PCS to participate fully in the negotiating process throughout.
“The real danger is that the judicial review provides a green light to ministers to revisit the terms negotiated in 2016 with the aim of making further cuts.”
The FDA briefing said that the government had indicated any additional costs that arose through the decision would have to be met within existing departmental budgets, and that it will bring forward new proposals to change the CSCS in the event that it loses at appeal.
“We will have to wait to see whether the terms we were able to negotiate are maintained in any new offer," the briefing said.
The memo added that PCS had won a similar judgment at judicial review in 2010 over compensation scheme changes proposed by the last Labour government, which had resulted in the coalition government “proposing even greater reductions to the terms of the CSCS” than had been previously agreed.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the ruling was “a major victory" for civil servants and showed the value of belonging to a trade union that was “prepared to fight back”.
Serwotka said ministers must have known they had been breaking the law by excluding the union – the civil service’s largest – from the consultation on the proposed alterations.
“This is yet another example of how Tory governments treat their own workforce and other public servants with utter contempt,” he said.
“There is no way we would ever allow ourselves be chained in negotiations where the terms are rigged and the outcome fixed in advance, and no right-thinking person could expect us to.”