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Civil Service Pay System “Not Fit For Purpose” As Senior Staff Offered Larger Raise

Many civil servants have already taken part in strikes this year (Alamy)

6 min read

The FDA union considers the civil service pay system to be “not fit for purpose” and in need of reform, despite the union accepting the pay recommendations set out by the Prime Minister on Thursday.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed that millions of public sector workers will receive pay increases, accepting the full recommendations of the independent pay review bodies and forcing ministers to find cuts of up to £2bn.

However, there is disparity between the pay awards offered to senior and junior civil servants. Senior civil servants (SCS), who make up around 2 per cent of the civil service and earn between around £70,000 and £200,000, will receive a 5.5 per cent pay increase. The vast majority of other civil servants will receive a 4.5 per cent pay rise along with a £1,500 one-off lump payment and an additional 0.5 per cent increase for the lowest grades.

According to the FDA’s assistant general secretary Amy Leversidge, this is because SCS pay is reviewed by the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB), whereas the pay for rank-and-file civil servants is not reviewed by an independent body, but by the civil service’s own pay remit guidance, which the Cabinet Office has responsibility for.

The Cabinet Office previously recommended that pay rises for SCS should be no higher than for more junior staff. 

“We have two separate systems for pay for the civil service which is dysfunctional,” Amy Leversidge, Assistant General Secretary for the FDA union told PoliticsHome. 

“We want to see the whole system reformed so it is fit for purpose.”

Leversidge said the FDA will campaign for the pay review body process to be strengthened across the board, as it is currently based on a 50+ year old system since the SSRB was established in 1971.

“We would like to see the civil service have an independent pay review body for delegated grades, so we can have that same robust evidence-base process and we can sort out this dysfunctional nature of pay in the civil service,” she said. 

However, the FDA welcomed the pay recommendations yesterday, describing the offer as “both fair and reasonable” and “in line with the rest of the civil service and public sector”, despite teachers, junior doctors, police and prison officers all receiving offers of more than six per cent. 

In Leversidge’s view, it is difficult to make a direct comparison between the offers for senior and junior staff, as the £1,500 non-consolidated payment for junior staff equates to three per cent of the total pay bill and will have more value for the lower paid than it does the higher paid.

“We think broadly they are comparable,” she argued, adding that last year, junior civil servants got a 3 per cent rise and the SCS only got 2 per cent.

But for many civil servants, the figures on the face of the offer have caused discontent, especially as much of the public sector increases are expected to be paid for by cuts to government departments, therefore likely affecting the resources available for civil servants.

An anonymous civil servant told PoliticsHome they believed the award for the majority of civil servants lacked evidence and independence.

“The pay award for civil service delegated grades is determined by the Cabinet Office, is not evidence based (it’s based on the CS board asking what can we afford?) and is clearly not independent and lacks trade union evidence submission,” they said.

“Delegation is broken, and reform with a new independent pay review body would be better than the shambles we have now.”

A group of PCS union activists shared that they were going to resist their union's ballot to pause strike action.

"A director earning £100k will receive a £5,500 pay rise!," they tweeted.

"Why is PCS balloting us to call off our strike action for 4.5% plus a £1500 one off payment?!? This CANNOT stand!"

One public sector software developer tweeted their frustration at the fact that civil servants were only being offered 4.5 per cent while cuts to the civil service would fund 5-7 per cent pay rises for other public sector workers. 

“So Civil Servants get f**ked on the way there and f**ked on the way back too! Classic,” they wrote. 

Describing pay as the “biggest issue” impacting civil servants, Leversidge acknowledged civil servants are still “incredibly frustrated” with their pay despite the most recent offer. 

“For the last 10 years, there really has been a desire to control and hold back public sector pay through pay freezes and restraining the awards that are allowed to be paid,” she said.

“So I think that's also created a lot of dysfunction in the system because we've got a lot of systemic issues now that haven't really been dealt with, including equal pay issues and a lack of pay progression. 

“We want to see the whole civil service pay system reformed because it's not fit for purpose, it doesn't work for civil servants, it doesn't work for the civil service in terms of trying to recruit and retain people in the service. The worst thing you ever want as an employer is to give a pay increase and have people feel demoralised by that.”

In a statement on Thursday, Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office Jeremy Quin said the government had carefully considered advice from the SSRB to determine the SCS pay award. 

“This is the highest award for the SCS for many years,” he said.

“Today’s announcement strikes the right balance between fairness and affordability for the taxpayer, the government’s priority to halve inflation and the need to maintain an effective Senior Civil Service that is able to recruit and retain the best senior talent to support the Government’s priorities.”

In response, a government spokesperson argued that as different civil service departments have different complex needs, they need to have flexibility to tailor their own pay and grading arrangements, rather than being reviewed by an independent body.

“This year’s pay award for non-senior grades is a significant package, including the biggest pay increase in over 20 years, alongside a one-off payment of £1500," the spokesperson.

"The one-off payment represents a significant and generous amount, on average nearly 3.5%, on top of the up to 5% award for staff.

"Pay arrangements for civil servants below the Senior Civil Service are delegated to departments as separate employers. This has been the case since 1996 and there are no plans to change this."

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