Civil Servants: Pay Award

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 15th March 2021.

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Photo of Jemma Dolan Jemma Dolan Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 15th March 2021

7. Ms Dolan asked the Minister of Finance for an update on the pay award for civil servants. (AQO 1752/17-22)

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I want to place on record my thanks to the Civil Service for its hard work and flexibility in response to the many challenges of maintaining and delivering services during the pandemic. I have met the recognised trade unions about the Civil Service pay award, and my officials have had negotiation meetings with the unions. In considering the pay award, I aim to strike the difficult balance between recognising Civil Service colleagues for their work while managing public money carefully in the face of the most challenging economic position for many years. Although the pay award is for 2020, it will, obviously, have consequences for the future overall cost of the very large Civil Service pay bill, so affordability is more critical than ever. I have therefore been considering a range of different options. I have circulated an Executive paper, and the agreement of the draft paper will enable an offer to be made to the trade unions shortly.

Photo of Jemma Dolan Jemma Dolan Sinn Féin

I appreciate that the Minister has to strike a balance. Will the pay award prioritise those who are on the lowest pay?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin 3:15 pm, 15th March 2021

I am fully committed to the New Decade, New Approach aim of the Executive becoming a living-wage employer. Department of Finance officials are working to realise that aim for the Civil Service. I have also asked that other public-sector employers consider how pay awards can be targeted to ensure the payment of living-wage foundations. I am also considering ways in which the pay award for the Civil Service can deliver a better outcome for lower-paid workers.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will be brief. Minister, I appreciate that there are constraints, as you have just laid out. Do you accept that, given some of the last-minute spending allocations and the delay in announcing details, there is real frustration among ordinary civil servants, particularly those on low pay and those who have had to work extremely hard over the past year to keep public services going? A lot of them are very frustrated that there has been a delay in confirming a settlement.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

They understand, as, I am sure, most Members do, that we have been grappling with a huge range of issues. The pay award for the public sector is not linked to the money that we are spending at the moment. Nonetheless, I want to get to a point of agreement quickly. I have put a paper to the Executive and hope to get agreement on it quickly. I will make an offer as soon as I can to the unions. I want to see the issue resolved to everyone's satisfaction.

Photo of Andrew Muir Andrew Muir Alliance

Like Mr O'Toole, I believe that it is important that the issue be brought to a conclusion. A number of months ago, the announcement was made about the £500 payment to Health and Social Care (HSC) staff. A recent update said that the costs associated with National Insurance and PAYE would also be covered. Can the Minister update us on when those payments will be made?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

They are a matter for the Department of Health. The Department asked for more money to assist it in meeting those costs, because the British Government refused not to treat them as a taxation issue and a welfare receipt issue, so they intended to extract their take out of the £500 payment. We have assisted the Department of Health in moving that up to the level that will account for that.

As I say, it is a one-off payment. What we are talking about here is the pay settlement award, which will be an ongoing payment for civil servants. Nonetheless, we were happy to assist the Department of Health, but it is responsible for the roll-out.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

That is the end of the time for listed questions. We now move on to topical questions. I advise Members that question 3 has been withdrawn.