The future of civil servants may not rank highly alongside traditional election issues, such as schools and the NHS. Yet the work they do makes a huge difference to people’s lives, not least because of the role the civil service will have in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.
So it is disappointing that beyond differences on the pay cap and, in the Conservative manifesto, the challenges of digital government, the civil service barely features in the main parties’ election manifestos.
The fact that staffing numbers have been slashed by 26% in recent years, while the unprecedented squeeze on pay has increased the pressure on recruitment and retention, makes the omissions all the more disturbing.
Public sector pay cap and job cuts
Despite presiding over the current pay cap, the Conservative manifesto is silent on public sector pay, and the party’s existing policy is for the 1% cap to continue into 2019-20.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to end the public sector pay cap, with Labour also proposing to put decisions about NHS pay “back into the hands of the independent pay review body”. It is not clear if this will extend to civil servants – something Prospect has been pushing for in recent years.
Meanwhile in Scotland, the Scottish National Party has recognised that public sector pay caps are unsustainable, and from next year and in future years it will no longer assume a 1% pay cap – welcome news for Prospect members though it will not be enacted until 2018. In Wales, Plaid Cymru is more vague, committing to introducing a real living wage and “more competitive salaries” for teachers.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies, examining the policy of the three main parties, has identified the pressures emerging as a consequence of pay restraint in the public sector compared to the private sector, and the potential risks to the quality of public services. Its assessment of the manifestos warns of the impact of pay restraint on recruitment, retention and motivation and ultimately the quantity and quality of public services, but warns that without further funding, pay increases could themselves lead to even more cuts.
The overall impact of job cuts across civil service departments, agencies or arm’s length bodies is ignored in all three manifestos.
Prospect remains unconvinced by the Conservative proposal to establish a law allowing public sector employees to mutualise. Our retired civil service members faced major delays when pensions administration was mutualised and the new penion mutual, MyCSP, struggled to respond to high numbers of inquiries.
Moving out of London
Members will also be concerned by the uncertainty caused by a Conservative proposal to move significant numbers of civil and other public servants out of London and the south-east to cities around the UK.
Some may see a certain irony in this, after the coalition goverment abolished regional government offices in 2010.
More than 70% of civil servants (not including non-departmental public bodies) already work outside London and the south-east.
Prospect members will also be worried about an as yet sketchy Conservative proposal to “combine the relevant parts of HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the Hydrographic Office and Geological Survey” to create a geospatial data body, part of a plan to use digital technology to “release massive value from our land that currently is simply not realised”.
Civil service diversity
All three main manifestos refer to increasing equality in the public sector, with Labour proposing to reinstate the public sector equality duties, the Lib Dems vowing to extend the use of name-blind recruitment processes in the public sector and the Conservatives stating that civil service recruitment should be as diverse as possible, “not only from the perspective of gender and race but social class too”.
Prospect welcomes any move to create fairer opportunities for staff. But as with all manifesto commitments, promises are one thing, and implementing them is another. What’s more, the next government will start from a low bar, especially in relation to black and minority ethnic and disabled employees.
Gender balance has improved across the civil service in recent years, but women are still underrepresented in senior roles.
But in 2016, only 11.2% of civil servants were from an ethnic minority (where ethnicity was known), up from 10.6% in 2015 but below the 14% of the UK population identified as BAME in the 2011 Census. The number declaring a disability was 9.2% in 2016 but only 4.7% in the senior civil service.
What members want
Prospect has outlined our public sector members’ concerns and questions for candidates relating to defence, heritage, justice, environment and food, science and transport in a special briefing accessible on the website or in the latest digital Profile.
Across the piece, we will be pressing all candidates and the newly elected government for:
- an independent, evidence-based review of pay
- a moratorium on job cuts and compulsory redundancies
- a comprehensive skills audit and strategic workforce plans to address soaring workloads and ensure we have the specialist, technical and managerial skills to successfully navigate Brexit and the other challenges facing the UK
- strong engagement with the trade unions
- continued public ownership of agencies and organisations facing privatisation.
- Garry Graham is a Prospect deputy general secretary and responsible for members in the civil service
- Photo shows Prospect members protesting against public sector pay restraint at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton in September 2015. Photo: Andy Brooks Photography
Liberal Democrat manifesto:
Scottish National Party manifesto:
Plaid Cymru manifesto: