Whitehall’s chief people officer acknowledges need for greater civil service pay flexibility

Rupert McNeil said professions will play a key role in ensuring the civil service can offer pay packages that attract and retain talented people


By Suzannah Brecknell

06 Jul 2017

The civil service’s chief people officer Rupert McNeil has said that the pay flexibility currently available for senior Whitehall officials – which allow ministers to agree a higher than usual pay package to recruit key skills – should be extended to other parts of the service.

Speaking at an event organised by the Institute for Government to discuss the issue of attracting and retaining talented people to the civil service, McNeil said it would be for government professions to set out the type of pay packages they needed to build skills.


McNeil also sought to reassure civil servants that efforts to fill skills gaps with external recruits would not result in a two-tier pay system. “It is inconceivable that the civil service should be a dual track place where there is…discrimination between people who come up from the ranks and people who come in externally”.

Phil Graham, the chief executive of the National Infrastructure Commission, asked McNeil to address the issue of pay flexibility below the SCS. The NIC has found that recruiting people at grades 6/7 allows for better transfer of skills than brining people in at a senior level, he said.

“What has been difficult is that the a lot of the flexibility in terms of remuneration  and so forth that have been brought in at the senior civil service level… quite often don’t exist outside the [SCS], you’re working with quite inflexible pay grades,” he said.

McNeil responded: “The Grade 6/7 role is absolutely critical… and I do hear what you say about the need for flexibility. Again, the answer lies in professions saying how they need [packages] to be structured.”

An audience member from Defence Equipment & Support, an arm’s-length body of the Ministry of Defence which has negotiated some freedoms around pay, noted that there is a risk of a two-tier system when external candidates are able to negotiate their pay package but internal candidates are not.

McNeil said leaders of professions – such as finance, policy and digital, data and technology – would be able to develop strategies to address the challenge

These leaders would first be able to ensure that there departments did not compete with each other for talent and then be able to produce specific packages taking into account both pay and pensions for the staff within their profession.

McNeil's comments come after the FDA trade union for senior civil servants wrote to cabinet ministers who have indicated support for ending the government’s 1% public sector pay cap to urge them to “put their money where their mouth is” and back a bigger increase for staff in their department.

Letters sent to foreign secretary Boris Johnson, defence secretary Michael Fallon, environment secretary Michael Gove and health secretary Jeremy Hunt from FDA general secretary Dave Penman said “warm words” must be followed up with “concrete action”.

The latest civil service workforce plan – published in July 2016 – set out plans for reviews on pay and reward structures for specialist staff including data, digital and technology.

Shortly before this plan was published, the commercial profession had created a new structure – the Government Commercial Organisation – to centrally employ and decide pay for commercial professionals.

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