Civil service £1,500 lump sum offer ‘one time bribery, not a pay uplift’, says DEFRA union member

Two civil service unions have welcomed the government offer of a £1,500 payment in a bid to put an end to industrial action, but a union member working in DEFRA says it is “not a good deal” and that it will see a further impact on the department’s resourcing issues.

Whitehall street sign. Image: Flickr

The government has made a new offer to civil servants below senior grades of a fixed non-consolidated payment of £1,500 per full-time employee for 2022/23.

In an addendum published on Friday 2 June, the government said: “The cost of implementing the non-consolidated payment can be met outside departments’ pay remit for the 2023/24 year only. Payments are expected to be non-pensionable.”

Prospect Union said that the government has also announced a moratorium on any changes to the civil service compensation scheme and “committed to avoiding compulsory redundancies wherever possible”.

Two unions have welcomed the offer, with Prospect union general secretary Mike Clancy saying that it “in principle addresses the three issues at the heart of this dispute”.

“Our members in the civil service play a critical role in delivering public services across the country and I want to thank them for their commitment and determination. This payment will help to address the cost-of-living crisis they have been facing.”

Clancy added: “We will now consult our public service representatives on the substance of the offer and formally respond to the government in due course.”

The FDA union, which represents managers in public service, also welcomed the offer. General secretary Dave Penman said that it represents “a clear demonstration” that this message sent by striking civil servants “has now been heard”. 

“For the first time in many years, we have reached a tangible, positive outcome for the civil service which compares well with the rest of the public sector. That, in itself, is no mean feat and I want to recognise the role played by ministers and the leadership of the civil service in achieving it.”

The PCS union, which is the largest civil service union, said it welcomed the fact that the government and Cabinet Office “has now listened and responded to the concerns of [its] members”, but added in a statement that its national executive committee would be meeting today to discuss it. 

However, ENDS has heard from a DEFRA staff member who said they and a number of other unionised staff were not happy with the deal, saying that it is “still effectively the worst pay deal in the public sector” because salaries will still not match inflation, and that it would not help the resourcing issues being faced by the department and other parts of the civil service.

“That money won't accumulate into pensions and further pay. You’ll just temporarily have a slightly higher salary this year [...], and it won't accumulate so it doesn't help," they said. "That makes it, I think, quite a bad deal. It’s not a pay uplift, so it's a one time bribery to try and dissuade industrial action and try and sort of buy off the unions basically.”

They added that “it very simply won't resolve poverty in the civil service. It maybe will help some people avoid the sort of very worst conditions of the cost of living crisis, but it's not something that is designed to lift people out of poverty or even stop more people falling below the poverty line.”

In April, ENDS revealed how low pay and high turnover have created resourcing gaps across central DEFRA life and limb response teams, increasing the chances of “something quite bad happening” according to whistleblowers, and leaving key policy areas functioning at a lower capacity.

The staff member added that because departments were going to need to find the money for the lump sum payment from other budgets, it would not help these types of resourcing issues.

They continued: “It’s encouraging that people aren't going to lose their jobs over this, but it's not going to fill the ranks of the civil service where there are significant gaps. Neither is the government going to lower its expectations from what the civil service delivers. 

“If you take money from elsewhere to give to us, it helps with the cost of living crisis, but it doesn't help with the general crisis in the civil service. I would say this being in DEFRA, but when your area is the environment, you take that very seriously.

DEFRA has been keen to emphasise that as pay is a delegated matter, it will now formally engage with the trade unions on the payment and eligibility criteria.

Asked for a comment, the department pointed to a statement made by the minister for the Cabinet Office, Jeremy Quin, who said: "We are determined that civil servants are rewarded fairly for the vital work they do across the country, in delivering the government’s agenda and providing services to the general public.

"I am pleased with the constructive engagement we have had with Civil Service trade unions, and to be announcing that departments will be allowed to make a £1,500 payment to every member of staff at Grade 6 and below.

"This is both fair to the taxpayer and a recognition of the financial pressures civil servants have faced over the last year."

Related: The DEFRA Dispatches

DEFRA Dispatches part 1: ‘No completely staffed team’ in key DEFRA emergency response units

DEFRA Dispatches part 2: Officials’ advice ‘repeatedly ignored’ by ministers as DEFRA morale plummets, whistleblowers reveal

DEFRA Dispatches part 3: DEFRA brain drain leaving ministers ‘less informed’ on key issues, warn insiders