Civil Service (Executive Grades)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th July 1973.

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1.21 p.m.

Photo of Dr Maurice Miller Dr Maurice Miller , Glasgow Kelvingrove

One of our British traditions is that our Civil Service is politically impartial. Unlike the United States, for example, where the civil administration undergoes extensive change every time there is a change in the political complexion of the Government, no drastic convulsions of personnel alteration take place in our Civil Service, regardless of which Government are in power. This concept of impartial service is a noble one, but there are signs that the modern civil servant does not want to become too institutionalised, to be taken too much for granted, to be looked upon as someone who will never complain no matter how unfairly he feels he is being treated.

In the last 25 or 30 years the Civil Service has become far more integrated into the social and economic life of the country and the civil servant wants to be considered as an integral part of our society and to bear comparison in job structure, in salary, in promotion and in conditions of employment with comparable people in society. In addition, the civil servant wants some kind of a say in the working life he is expected to lead.

The executive and directing grades of the Civil Service are a case in point. The duties in those grades range from special purchasing for their own department, the management of a labour exchange, determining the benefits laid down by the Department of Health and Social Security, the programming of computers, the conciliation of industrial disputes, advising business on export possibilities and opportunities, the preparation of parliamentary correspondence, and the preliminary drafting of proposed legislation. All these are executive duties which require judgment and analysis, and many of these personnel have to exercise personal skills, with the ability to express themselves clearly to the public with tact and even with persuasiveness.

The maximum salary for an executive officer in these grades is £2,288 per annum, reached after 15 annual increments with a starting level of £951 per year. Surely there can be nowhere in industry or commerce where the commencing salary for a named position is less than half the maximum and where a 16-point scale of increments is involved.

I know that the basis on which salaries are negotiated is the findings of the Pay Research Unit, which compares Civil Service jobs with similar positions in outside employment, but the unit operates only on a biennial review, which almost inevitably results in the process becoming a catching-up exercise on something which may be already a year out of date.

I am not suggesting, however, that the unit is not a useful tool in salary discussions. What I am saying is that it cannot be considered a complete substitute for negotiation. The position to which the unit has brought the executive officers at this moment exemplifies my point.

If one takes the base of 100 in January 1966 for the average earnings of all employees in industry, one finds that by September 1972 it had risen to 178·6. Over the same period the executive officers at the maximum level received an increase to 147·6. The higher executive officers at maximum level were at 152·2 while senior executive officers, again on the maximum, were at 151—all of them well behind the average industrial reading.

But the dissatisfaction in the Civil Service is not confined entirely to remuneration. There is discontent amongst civil servants at the lack of encouragement to the achievement of recognised qualifications in pure managerial skills. Management is also a highly advanced technology, and in the modern world the Civil Service must recognise this by embarking upon a programme of training of employees and instruction in managerial skills.

There is discontent also about the system of promotion in the Civil Service. In 1972 only one in 25 executive officers was promoted into the next grade of higher executive officer, and only one in 26 higher executive officers was promoted to senior executive officer. This is reflected surely in the alarmingly high staff turnover in the executive and directing grades.

Nearly 16 per cent. of those who joined the service after 1st January 1970 left during 1971, and during the same year over 13 per cent. of executive grades who had joined in 1969 also resigned. Instead of modern methods of promotion, including case studies and discussions depth, interviews and assessments by psychologists, the chief method of promotion in these grades is by annual reports and promotion boards, an outmoded method of selection which is wide open to possible exploitation to perpetuate promotion by patronage rather than by ability.

There is discontent also about the absence of effective participation in decisions which affect the lives of people employed. Civil servants have complained to me that decisions are made by command rather than by consent, that the system is, to say the least, authoritarian, and that even a condescending consultation has to be looked upon by the employees as a major victory.

I know that time is short so I will summarise my conclusions. First, the 16-point salary scale should be shortened. After a maximum of 10 years an executive should be able to count upon earning a salary comparable with his counterparts in industry or commerce, and I believe that it is not pitching it too high to say that at this moment that should be at least £3,250 a year.

Secondly, the service should develop a scientific and less subjective method of selection for promotion. Thirdly, the Whitley Council machinery is outdated and needs to be reformed.

Finally, there should be regular and constant retraining in the service. No job of this kind has static requirements, and in a profession which plays such a large part in the life of every man, woman and child in the country it is vital for the well-being of the country that every member of that profession should be efficient, compassionate and content.

1.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , St Marylebone

I welcome the widespread interest in the well-being of the Civil Service which has been expressed by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Dr. Miller). The motion refers to executive grades but many of the problems—and I do not deny that they exist—involve also other grades. My colleagues and I are deeply concerned about all grades and classes of civil servants.

We in this House and everyone in the country have an interest in ensuring that the outstanding service that the Civil Service renders to us, not only as a legislative assembly but as a nation and community, is not impaired. No one is more concerned in Government than I, as the Minister charged with responsibility for the Civil Service and every aspect of the conditions of employment of civil servants.

I do not want to deal with the underlying implication in all that the hon. Gentleman has said, which is a dispute between two unions—

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , St Marylebone

The hon. Gentleman rightly brought to the attention of the House the working conditions of certain grades in the Civil Service. He knows as well as anyone that his union is conducting a campaign and has produced a booklet from which he quoted freely "The case for Middle Management in the Civil Service." I do not wish to be drawn into an argumentative dispute as to who should represent whom in the Civil Service, and that is what, outside the House, the debate is generally seen as being about. If the hon. Gentleman says that that is not what the debate is about he turns away his eyes from one of the issues. I do not intend to deal with this. It is not for me. If there is a dispute between unions that is a matter for the TUC and Bridlington.

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Poplar

With great respect, what the Minister is saying is unfair. It is his business to reply to the speech made by my hon. Friend, who did not mention a trade union, either his own or any other. The Minister has no right to assume what is the basis of the debate. He should rest on the words used and reply to those words. His aspersion is utterly without justification. I say that as one who knows.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , St Marylebone

I have made no aspersion. I was about to say that I did not intend to deal with this point. I intend to reply to the points raised by the hon. Member for Kelvingrove, but I cannot help drawing the conclusion that the arguments put forward by the hon. Gentleman are almost word for word in this booklet.

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman and many others are genuinely interested in the arguments he put forward. From his opening remarks it is apparent that he appreciates the changing position of civil servants, and the changing position of civil servants within the Civil Service.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Whitleyism, and in this I am sure that we shall be helped by the contribution of all the Civil Service unions. He did not pay due tribute to the achievements of over 50 years of Whitleyism. Over this long period a joint approach to problem solving has proved succesful and has often been the envy of both management and staff in the private sector. This is something of which the Civil Service has been rightly proud and I am sure that it will continue to be so.

I do not underestimate the strength of feeling which recent industrial action has evinced, nor do I wish to understate the regret that must be felt by most people, including large numbers of civil servants, at this departure from tradition whereby a solution was generally found in matters of dispute through the Whitley Council system rather than through industrial action. I refute the implication that progress can be achieved only by coercion and confrontation.

Whitleyism does not preclude direct negotiations by individual unions in matters which are the sole concern of the staff whom they are recognised as representing. Pay research negotiations, for example, are invariably conducted with the unions recognised to represent the staff concerned in the survey.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the difficulties that the executive grades are experiencing and have experienced for some time. I am well aware of the arguments expressed in the publication "The Case for Middle Management in the Civil Service". The hon. Gentleman dealt with many of these arguments and I will specifically reply to them.

The hon. Gentleman claimed that the various methods used in the past are not appropriate and have not produced job satisfaction nor the appropriate rate of reward for the degree and type of responsibility involved. The hon. Gentleman said that pay research reviews, which were established under the Priestley Report—a policy which has been followed by successive Governments—are based on reviews which are made a year previously and are, therefore, a year out of date. The rates collected during the Pay Research Unit's review are continually up-dated as changes occur through the year. All the rates used to settle Civil Service pay for a 1st January settlement are in payment in the firms concerned on that date. I think that the hon. Gentleman must have misunderstood the position. The reviews are not a year out of date.

The hon. Gentleman dealt at some length with promotion, the lack of promotion and how long promotion took. He also referred to the length of the incremental scales. The system of scales in the Civil Service is important not only for executive grades but for typists and others. The hon. Gentleman omitted to recognise that the executive officer grade is a reservoir of talent into which three streams of recruitment flow—promoted clerical officers, "A" level entrants and graduates, for all of whom different parts of the scale are used. The scale relates starting pay to age, from 18 to 25. The hon. Gentleman ignored the system introduced in negotiation with the Society of Civil Servants in 1971 which can give an incremental jump after three years' satisfactory service.

The hon. Gentleman asserted that the system of promotion was old-fashioned and did not allow recognition at a sufficiently early age. That is simply untrue. About two-thirds of those in the principal grade are former higher executive officers, and 30 per cent. of those at under-secretary level and above do not come from the former administrative class.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned staff reports and job appraisal reviews. Staff report forms have been thoroughly revised to provide the best vehicle for achieving a common assessment, and an imaginative programmed learning system of training has been devised, validated and introduced. Job appraisal reviews have been introduced. There is nothing political in this. They were introduced under the Labour Government. They are a follow-through from the Fulton Report and have been introduced only with the most thorough preparation.

The Civil Service Department has produced a training film on these reviews which has been much admired by firms outside the public sector. Private firms have hired it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity of seeing that film and appreciating the great care we take over the job appraisal of civil servants from year to year. This is not confined to executive grades but includes other grades as well.

The hon. Gentleman implied that the executive officer was very dissatisfied, underpaid and under-appreciated and that we were having difficulties in recruitment. We are having difficulties in recruitment. But they are very much restricted to the London area. They are not experienced in the area which the hon. Gentleman represents, for example. Some of his colleagues on the Labour benches came to see me only last week to advocate greater dispersal of civil servants to the Glasgow area, to West Central Scotland and to Scotland generally. They made the reverse point to that which the hon. Gentleman made. They said that there was a superfluity of people waiting to become executive officers in Scotland. The point which the hon. Gentleman made about a shortfall of recruitment does not assist his constituency, his city or his country.

Photo of Dr Maurice Miller Dr Maurice Miller , Glasgow Kelvingrove

The hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I did not suggest or imply that there was a shortage of recruits. I did not say anything about that. I said that there was a tremendous turnover of people in the Civil Service. An alarmingly high number of people leave. Will the hon. Gentleman stop giving the impression that it is unusual for hon. Members to quote from documents and to use expertise? Will he appreciate that I may have had a hand in drawing up the document?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , St Marylebone

I should not be at all surprised to hear that. The hon. Gentleman may well have had a hand in it. I was anxious to point out that quite a few of the statements which he made did not reflect an understanding of the position in the Civil Service, just as the statements in the pamphlet did not. There are errors in the pamphlet and in what the hon. Gentleman said. But there is also a deep strain of misunderstanding about how the Civil Service works.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned in his intervention the question of turnover. He also mentioned the wastage in the executive officer grade. There is a problem about staff turnover. It is a problem which we share with other employers, and a thorough independent study which looked into the matter in 1970, comparing our experience in the Civil Service with that in 35 other organisations, suggested that our turnover figure was no higher than that of other organisations. A full-scale study has not been undertaken since then, but we keep in contact with the large employers in the private sector to ascertain their experience and to discover the situation in the labour market in particular parts of the country. It seems that our experience is not dissimilar from that of the private sector in large areas of clerical work in, for example, insurance companies and banks. They have similar problems to those to which the hon. Gentleman referred in the first part of his speech when he said that the nature of the job was changing and that people wanted to be more satisfied in their jobs. They do not want to work in clerical factories. I support what the hon. Gentleman said.

We are continually looking at the nature of the work to see to what extent responsibility can be pushed down the line so that the sort of people about whom the hon. Gentleman spoke are not doing work which more junior grades, such as clerical officers and clerical assistants, could do. We have a team of consultants doing job satisfaction work in the area of the executive officer grades about which the hon. Gentleman has been speaking. We are experimenting to see whether changes in the organisation of work can bring greater satisfaction.

It is not only a matter of pay. We undertook a major study to ensure that the executive officer grade was not being misused and that executive officers were not being given low quality work. We found that at most 3 per cent. of the executive officers were being given work of poorer quality than they might have been expected to tackle. But, even though the percentage was small, this is a matter which concerns us and we are discussing it with the Society of Civil Servants and, in particular, with the Civil and Public Services Association, because the association is concerned almost entirely with the work of clerical officers and clerical assistants.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of training. I resented most his remarks about training. The Civil Service needs to make no apology about the amount of training which it does or the quality and calibre of it. We have just experienced a five-year programme, which is continuing, of improving training by means of training colleges. Much of the training of executive officers is done at departmental level. They are trained in managerial techniques and in such things as management by objectives. They are trained in use of all the latest managerial tools. Although 94 per cent. of all training is done by Departments, a growing percentage is done by the Civil Service College in the courses which it runs in London and Edinburgh. In 1971–72 more than 600 executive officers and higher executive officers attended courses at the college. They were mainly four-week courses specially designed to develop their general management skills.

Photo of Dr Maurice Miller Dr Maurice Miller , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Will the hon. Gentleman say how long it will take to retrain and keep up-to-date the 83,000 people involved?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , St Marylebone

The great mass of training in the Civil Service is done on the job in Departments by the respective training departments. That has always been the case and will, I think, continue to be the case. There are very good training courses in managerial skills and not simply in the mechanics of a Department.

I wish to deal with the question of promotion. The hon. Gentleman said that talent was being suppressed. That is not true. Today we have issued a new set of instructions revising some of our procedures to ensure that there are no bars to equal opportunity throughout the Civil Service. The procedures now open up a fast route for outstanding executive officers who will be able to reach the grade of principal, which carries a salary of £3,635 a year, in their twenties. They also contain a specific right of appeal for anyone who has not been called for interview or is not selected for promotion. I remind the hon. Gentleman of how rapidly the rate of the age of promotion from executive officer to higher executive officer is dropping. In 1967 the average age was 34. In 1971 it was 31 and in 1972 it was 30.

I wish to deal with the matter of pay, because the hon. Gentleman dealt with it at some length. I assure hon. Members that Ministers, and particularly myself, are aware of the strong feelings of civil servants about the effect of the counter-inflation policy and about maintaining the fair comparison principle. We reached a settlement within the stage 2 limits and increases have been paid from 1st April. Executive officers get between 6½ and 10½ per cent., and this followed the 7 to 7½ per cent. which they received on 1st January 1972. The executive officer maximum in inner London is now £2,463 a year.

However, I recognise that feelings of unfairness have arisen from the impact of the standstill. That is why the Pay Board has been asked to report on any anomalies which may have been created by the provisions of the counter-inflation policy. It is due to report its findings on 15th September. Hon. Members may know that written and oral evidence has been given by both sides of the National Whitley Council and separately by the Society of Civil Servants and other Civil Service unions.

It is now for the Pay Board to consider the evidence and construct its report. Hon. Members will not expect me to speculate about its findings. The final outcome will be for the Government to decide in the light of the board's general report and the consultations which will be had on it. But if the board reports that anomalies exist, we have already assured the National Staff Side that they will be considered in relation to stage 3.

I do not want the House to gain the impression, which recent advertisements in the Press have sought to encourage, that one particular union has a monopoly of concern. It is not for me to comment on the claims made by individual unions about their effectiveness, but we should be suspicious about claims that only one union cares. The history of over 50 years of Whitleyism demonstrates how much has been achieved through joint consultation between the employers and unions who do understand and do care.

I hope I have said enough to make it clear that care and concern are being applied to the current problems faced by executive grades in the Civil Service. While welcoming any suggestion from any quarter we know that there are no easy solutions to these problems. But with the help of the staff representatives whoever they may be, we shall do our utmost to overcome the challenges that lie ahead. The philosophy and practice of Whitley-ism have served the Civil Service and the country very well over the years, and we shall not abandon them lightly. I only wish that those who seek to join in were more imbued with this spirit.

1.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr Douglas Houghton Mr Douglas Houghton , Sowerby

I wish to declare an interest, solely as a former member of the Civil Service National Whitley Council and as its chairman at the time of negotiation of agreements, which are still current, regarding the principles for fixing Civil Service pay and conditions. I was also secretary of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation which has in its membership a large number of executive grades, to which my hon. Friend referred.

The executive grades in the Civil Service are covered by three main groups of organisation, all of which are affiliated to the staff side of the Civil Service National Whitley Council. There is the Society of Civil Servants, which represents the broad general grades of the executive classes, including a section of Customs and Excise; there is the Inland Revenue Staff Federation, covering a large section of departmental executive classes in the Inland Revenue; and the Association of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Taxes.

When my hon. Friend refers to the conditions of executive officers and their grievances, which I fully understand, and with which I am familiar, I ask myself what is he seeking to remedy. It can come only from trade union organisation, trade union activity, joint consultation and joint agreement and, if necessary, arbitration. That is the structure which exists in the Civil Service today, and that is where the remedy lies.

The House may be unsuspecting of the delicate issues which lie behind the debate today. I must refer to the fact that executive grades of the Civil Service, fully represented as they are by the organisations to which I have referred, have recently been under attack from another quarter, the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs. That association has entered the field for membership in some parts of the executive grades and has been making inroads into the membership of the Society of Civil Servants, especially and particularly in the Ministry of Defence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Dr. Miller) is a member and an officer of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs. Therefore, one has to consider this debate in the light of this rivalry in the background. These two unions, the Society of Civil Servants and the ASTMS, are both affiliated to the TUC, which is fully alive to the problems which have lately arisen in this connection. I understand that under the TUC's dispute machinery a conference has been called at which the matters in dispute between the two unions can be fully considered. I fear that without that information the House does not fully understand the underlying considerations relating to the executive classes particularly.

Why not the clerical classes or the professional classes? At present, this sensitive area is the executive grades in the Civil Service. I must strongly dissent from any suggestion, if there is one, that the remedy can come from any source other than the recognised machinery and organisation. I disagree most strongly with my hon. Friend when he alleges that the Civil Service National Whitley Council is out of date. It is not. It is very much up to date. It is reviewed from time to time by independent Royal Commissions to see whether anything needs a new look and perhaps considerable review. An example was the Priestley Commission in 1955, out of which sprang for the first time an agreed formula, an agreed principle, for fixing Civil Service staff pay and conditions—that of fair comparability with a Civil Service pay research unit established especially to gather information on which negotiations could be conducted. That system has operated satisfactorily since 1955 and has been interrupted only once—by the present Government's counter-inflation policy. The rhythm of reviews for fair comparability purposes in the Civil Service has been intercepted by that policy.

We hope that this will be purely temporary. There is nothing wrong with the system, or with accredited and recognised organisations, or with their membership. There is nothing which needs the intrusion of another organisation.