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Thank you for calling me to speak, Ms Buck. I congratulate Chris Stephens on securing the debate.
Here we are again, debating the negative impact of this Government’s policies on workers. Debates in Westminster Hall or in the main Chamber that lay bare the real consequences of the Government’s austerity agenda seem to be an almost daily occurrence, yet the Government very rarely recognise the need to address the problems caused by austerity. I suspect that this debate will be no different, in spite of the clear consequences of the Government’s proposed reforms to the civil service compensation scheme.
Civil servants have been fighting a continuous battle against reforms to the compensation scheme for years with successive Governments. The battle started in 2009 with the Labour Government, who sought reforms to the scheme that they believed would help control costs. Civil servants and their trade unions, particularly PCS, mobilised against those reforms and launched a successful judicial review against them in 2010. After the 2010 election, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats tried to cap payments for voluntary and compulsory redundancies, but the civil servants and their unions fought back, which resulted in higher caps.
This Government are continuing the trend of attempting to reform the scheme, but they are doing so by undermining the trade unions. The Government pursued a consultation process in all but name, imposing conditions on trade union participation. In the 2017 judicial review of the consultation, the High Court found that the Government’s reforms were illegal as a result of their failure to engage in proper consultation. However, an appeal has since been lodged against that decision, and we await the outcome from the Court of Appeal. Regardless of the outcome, let me put on the record that I will always stand alongside civil servants and their trade unions in opposing the Government’s attempts to railroad through reforms to the scheme without meaningful consultation. I will be out supporting them again tomorrow.
It is clear to me that the real intention behind the Government’s reforms is to erode the terms and conditions of our civil servants. Just look at the differences between the 2010 compensation scheme terms and those that the Government seek to introduce. Civil servants are guaranteed a tariff fixed at one month’s salary per year of service in both voluntary and compulsory redundancies. The Government seek to reduce that fixed tariff to just three weeks per year of service. The maximum amount payable to civil servants in a voluntary redundancy is 21 months’ salary. The Government seek to reduce that to 18 months’ salary. In a compulsory redundancy, the maximum amount payable currently stands at 12 months’ salary, but the Government wish to reduce that to nine months’ salary. Notice periods are generally around six months, but the Government seek to reduce that to just three months for new starters.
The Government continue to pursue these reforms in spite of overwhelming opposition from the 3,000 respondents to the consultation, who were told by the then Minister for the Cabinet Office that the 2010 compensation scheme terms were both “fair” and
“right for the long term”.
These reforms must be opposed by all of us in this House who value workers, value good terms and conditions, and value our public services.
While I am speaking in support of civil servants, let me say that it is time the Government treated our civil servants with respect and dignity. Civil servants are dedicated, professional and hard-working, just like all those who work in our public services, such as doctors, nurses, teachers and, as my good friend the hon. Member for Glasgow South West mentioned, prison officers. However, they continue to be denied a fair pay rise as a result of this Government’s ongoing decision to limit civil service pay rises to between 1% and 1.5%. Civil servants received one of the lowest pay increases in the public sector in 2018-19. I call on the Minister to scrap the cap and give our civil servants a proper pay rise. They deserve much more than they are getting from this Government.