UK civil servants’ pay rise lower than other public sector workers’

By on 28/07/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
HM Treasury has increased senior civil servants’ pay by 2% for the current financial year – more than the 1.5% set last year, but 0.2% below the figure recommended by a salary review board (Image courtesy: Stephen Richards/Geograph).

Senior civil servants in the UK are to get a 2% pay rise, outgoing chancellor Philip Hammond announced on Monday, rejecting the recommendations proposed by a salary review board.

The pay rise matches that afforded senior military staff, but is less than school teachers, medical consultants and dentists, police officers and Armed Forces personnel – whose pay will increase by between 2.5% and 2.9% – will receive, and below the 2.2% rise recommended by the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB). The government announced in June that junior civil servants would receive 1% average pay rises in 2019/20 but that organisations could award up to a further 1% provided it is affordable within budgets and will not impact on the safe delivery of public services.

The latest annual SSRB report, published on Monday, found that the impact of high workloads and 10 years of below-inflation pay increases has led many senior civil servants to feel undervalued, and said that while it was “useful to see the emerging plans for the development of a new senior civil service [performance management] framework”, there is a “shortage of concrete proposals for reform”.

It added that the current proposals, submitted to the SSRB by the Cabinet Office in May, “may result in an overcomplicated system that will create new problems and lead to further demoralisation of the workforce”, and that the “biggest current problem remains the lack of any form of pay progression”. The SSRB report calls for “greater pace and more commitment” to a timetable for implementing change, and recommends that government prioritise developing and investing in a “credible, robust and simple pay progression system” for senior civil servants.

External costs

The SSRB report also highlights a glaring gap in pay between internal and external hires. Those recruited externally command a salary premium of 28.5% over internal candidates – a difference that, trade union Prospect said, demonstrates “just how far pay has fallen behind the wider labour market”. 

In response to the SSRB report, former Cabinet Officer minister David Lidington – who resigned on Tuesday in protest at new prime minister Boris Johnson’s stance on Brexit – said that the government would follow all other recommendations put forward by the board, but that the pay increase for senior civil servants should be limited to 2%. This, he said, aligned their rise with the guidance set for the pay rises received by more junior civil servants, where pay decisions are delegated to departments. He added that government would undertake work on developing “capability-based pay progression”.  

Garry Graham, Prospect’s deputy general secretary, said in a statement following Hammond’s announcement: “Yet again an opportunity has been missed. The terms of reference set by the government for the SSRB has meant that its hands have been largely tied and it can do little more than highlight problems and identify issues which need to be addressed over the longer term. The government has effectively capped the SSRB’s recommendations at 2% – again singling out the civil service for the harshest of treatment, not only in comparison to the private sector but also the wider public sector.

“At a time when the government has never been so reliant on the civil service, and MPs themselves received 2.7% in April, the government’s approach to pay both for the senior civil service and for delegated grades will be difficult for many to stomach – especially when the coming months are likely to be even more testing.”

Too much can-kicking

Speaking before Johnson became PM, he added that “any incoming prime minister needs to stop kicking the can down the road, recognise the invaluable support provided by the civil service and ensure that staff are rewarded fairly”.   

As for how the pay rises will be funded, Hammond – who also resigned on Tuesday shortly after Johnson’s appointment as prime minister – said government could afford them because “our balanced approach means we have reduced our debt while investing in public services, including pay”.  However, with no new money attached to the government’s proposed pay rises, it isn’t clear how government departments will be able to fund them.

  • This article was amended at 11pm on 31 July. We previously stated that the government recommended in June that more junior civil servants receive 2% average pay rises but that departments have flexibility under delegated authority rules. In fact, the government announced that junior civil servants would receive 1% average pay rises in 2019/20 but that organisations could award up to a further 1% – we have changed one sentence to clarify this.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.


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