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Civil Service Compensation Scheme

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 19th March 2019.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 4:30 pm, 19th March 2019

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, because that is exactly what happened. I will come on to that later.

Gus O’Donnell, the then head of the civil service, echoed Francis Maude’s comments, stating:

“It was important that we achieved a scheme which is sustainable, affordable and fair.”

However, those were hollow words, as just five years later the Conservative majority Government elected in 2015 decided to proceed with further cuts to the civil service compensation scheme. On 8 February 2016, the Cabinet Office launched a consultation on reforming the scheme. During the consultation, it took the extraordinary step of debarring the trade unions that refused to agree cuts as a pre-condition for talks.

PCS balloted its members on the final offer and it was overwhelmingly rejected. Unsurprisingly, PCS again took the matter to the High Court. The primary argument was that, by debarring the union from talks, the Cabinet Office had breached its obligation to consult the trade unions with a view to reaching agreement. Mr Justice Sales and Mrs Justice Whipple agreed. They held that:

“The Minister could not lawfully exclude the PCSU from the consultation which ultimately mattered in terms of his statutory duty”.

They added that he

“was not entitled to impose additional entry conditions above and beyond those stipulated in the 1972 Act for participation in that consultation, in the form of the pre-commitments he required the unions to make.”

Accordingly, the Court quashed the changes. That was a significant victory for civil servants, which forced the Government to restore the terms of the scheme so that many members achieved higher payments and the pace of job cuts in some Departments slowed.

Not content to leave it there, the Government announced in September 2017 a further consultation on reforming the scheme. It is believed that the consultation is another attempt to make cuts. The Government’s position will worsen even the proposed 2016 scheme terms that PCS members overwhelmingly rejected in a ballot and that were overturned by the High Court. Nevertheless, the trade unions engaged in talks with the employer.

PCS has been clear that there is no case for changing the terms of the scheme that were reinstated by the High Court. Notwithstanding that, it is engaging to protect its members’ interests, as would be expected. It is participating in talks alongside other unions—the GMB, the Prison Officers Association and Unite the union, which have also adopted the position that there is no case for cuts in the scheme. Those unions represent the overwhelming majority of trade union members affected by the scheme, and they have been in detailed discussions with the Cabinet Office since late 2017. The objectives of the negotiations are fair: to secure maximum protection for the lowest paid; to secure maximum protection for the greatest possible number of members—more often than not they are the lowest paid—and for those who want to remain in a job, thereby prioritising compulsory redundancy terms over voluntary exit and voluntary redundancy terms; and to eradicate the age discriminatory aspects of the current scheme.

I was sent a note by the Prison Officers Association, and I will reiterate its concerns. After prison officers are injured in the line of duty, how they are treated appears to be a lottery. In some cases, if the injury is judged severe enough—by outsourcers and privateers, naturally—they will be issued with a medical retirement, at which point they are entitled to their accrued pension. However, they can instead be issued with a medical inefficiency, which can have severe financial consequences. To be clear, we are talking about the same scenario: officers being so severely injured by prisoners that they cannot return to work. In one case they can retire and keep their pension, sometimes along with permanent injuries, while in the other they are often left in a position where they cannot even afford the urgent medical care they need.

The Prison Officers Association believes that the planned cuts to that scheme threaten to make an unfair situation even worse, by limiting further the number of weeks that critically injured prison officers can receive pay. That literally adds insult to injury, and this Government must act to make sure those brave men and women are not further penalised for working in such dangerous conditions while they diligently protect the public.