UK pushes forward on senior pay reforms

By on 28/11/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
UK Cabinet Office minister David Lidington: new plans should help slow turnover and boost recruitment for in-demand skills.

The UK government is considering whether pay reforms for the senior civil service (SCS) should be managed centrally or by departments, according to Cabinet Office minister David Lidington.

Writing to the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) last week, Lidington outlined the thrust of his department’s forthcoming submission to the board’s review of pay levels for 2019-20. He said that the government’s evidence, set to be submitted early next year, will focus on the implementation of proposed reforms to pay bands outlined earlier this year.

Lidington said the evidence will “discuss the desired application of the SCS pay system, whether that is centralised management of the workforce; delegation to departments; or an appropriate balance between the two.

“This will be explored in the context of other changes being proposed and will include explanation of the role of professions in the evolving reward framework.”

Competing in jobs markets

Last year, the government outlined proposals to move to a system of variable pay ranges built around professional groupings. One group would cover the majority of civil-service-wide professions, with another group in “market-facing professions” getting higher pay. A third group would cover niche, specialist roles which are particular to one or a small number of departments.

Lidington, in his recent letter, said that the new pay system “marks a significant strategic shift, and will aid us in achieving our vision for a future SCS which is more diverse, experienced and professionalised, with a better mix of specialist and generalist leaders”.

He added that the government has been working on the new structure over recent months, with the aim of providing greater reward for high performers “and those who develop capability and increase depth by remaining in role”.

In addition, the reforms could help provide clearer rules and control to reinforce consistency and coordination across the SCS.

Ongoing squeeze

Lidington also said that when deciding the level of 2019-20 pay awards, the SSRB should consider how to target awards to retain the best staff, whilst respecting fairness and “current and future affordability to the taxpayer”.

“The last Spending Review budgeted for 1% average basic pay awards, and there will still be a need for pay discipline over the coming years to ensure the affordability of the public service and the sustainability of public sector employment,” he said.

In August, unions representing civil servants launched a legal challenge to the government’s proposed pay settlement, which offered an average rise of no more than 1.5%.

A different picture

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has signed a “fair work” agreement with public sector unions, setting out commitments on working hours, minimum pay standards and apprenticeships in the civil service north of the border.

Allan Sampson, national officer for the FDA union, said: “The benefits to employers are likely to be lower absence rates, higher staff engagement, greater productivity and other benefits that come from being recognised as a fair employer, working in a constructive partnership with trade unions.”

About Colin Marrs

Colin is a journalist and editor with long experience in the government and built environment sectors. He cut his teeth in local newspaper journalism before moving to Inside Housing in 1999. He has worked in a variety of roles for built environment titles including Planning, Regeneration & Renewal and Property Week. After a spell at advertising industry bible Campaign magazine, he became a freelancer in 2010. Since then he has edited, local government finance publication and contributed news and features to Civil Service World, Architects’ Journal, Social Housing, management titles and written white papers for major corporate and public sector clients.

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