Minister showed ‘contempt’ in botched civil service pay consultation

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Whitehall. Photo: Shutterstock

Unions and the Labour Party have condemned the government’s 2018 civil service pay guidance remit and called for its immediate withdrawal while consultation and negotiations take place.

The guidance sets the framework for pay award negotiations in the service and other areas of the public sector.

The Treasury told departments this week that they should limit average pay awards for government workers in 2018-19 to a range of 1% to 1.5%.

The government said this range recognised that the 1% cap on increases that had been in place since 2012 no longer applied. The pay cap has been lifted for many roles in the NHS, the police and prisons.

The leaders of the three civil service unions – Prospect, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and the FDA – wrote to Cabinet Office minister David Lidington yesterday (28 June) to state their claim that the guidance had been issued without meaningful consultation. They told the ministers that they had not engaged properly with the process and that other public sector workers had been offered far higher increases.

Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, which has more than 34,000 members in the civil service and related occupations, said the absence of engagement on the content of the guidance “demonstrated contempt both for the unions and the members we represent”.

He was echoed by  FDA general secretary Dave Penman, who said the Treasury’s hardline position “cannot be allowed to continue”, and blasted the lack of talks as “shambolic and contemptible”. The FDA has 19,000 members, some of whom are senior civil servants.

Clancy said ministers’ approach had contrasted strongly with that taken in the NHS, local government and by the Scottish government.

A statement on Prospect’s website said that the Cabinet Office, back in March, had promised Prospect, the FDA and PCS that meetings would take place before the guidance was published.

It said the Cabinet Office also promised it would share a final draft of the guidance with the unions before it was published to allow negotiations and consultation to take place, adding that although the unions did receive a draft, the levels of pay increases permitted were not set out. Further meetings were scheduled but cancelled at short notice.

Prospect said it was clear that neither the Cabinet Office nor the Treasury ever intended to discuss the guidance.

PCS is the largest union representing civil service employees with around 195,000 members. It stated that “a frank exchange of views with Cabinet Office officials” where all three unions agreed the 1%-1.5% pay remit was “unacceptable”, and would treat government staff worse than many other parts of the public sector.

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Labour’s Peter Dowd, said the remit was evidence that the government was “riding roughshod over our hardworking public sector workers”. He told the Politics Home website that it was a “shameful state of affairs when ministers cannot even be bothered to properly consult civil servants on their future pay. Ministers should now listen to the civil service unions and immediately withdraw the current pay remittance guidance and undertake a fresh consultation.”

Responding to the call for the guidance to be withdrawn, a government spokesperson told Civil Service World: “Civil servants do an outstanding job supporting the delivery of public services right across the country.

“This year’s pay guidance provides greater flexibility for civil service pay, striking a balance between rewarding our hard working staff and ensuring good value for the taxpayer.”

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