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Civil Service Compensation Scheme

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:49 pm on 19th March 2019.

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Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords) 4:49 pm, 19th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Buck. I am not sure if it constitutes an interest under the legislation, but I am a member of the Public and Commercial Services Union. In the interest of full disclosure, I am happy to declare that before I begin my remarks.

I support my hon. Friend Chris Stephens in bringing forward this motion and I associate the third party with the body of his remarks. I have some additional points. First, it is really not a good look for the United Kingdom Government that three times over the last nine years, under three different Governments of different political complexions, the Government workforce has found it necessary to take its employer to court, and on two out of those three occasions the workforce has won. That does not speak well about good will and industrial relations inside the civil service, or about relations between the Government and those on whom they depend to implement their policies. Something is awry and it needs to put right.

That is even more true when we consider what is about to befall the public sector, if Brexit goes ahead. The degree of upheaval, change and restructuring that will be necessary to cope with leaving the European Union will undoubtedly require the good will and support of the workforce. I implore the Minister to try to do what he can to diverge from the attitude and the work of his predecessors.

I support the principles that underline the trade unions’ counter-proposal on the compensation scheme. I do not want the Minister to disclose his negotiating hand—it is proper that he responds to the trade unions directly on 25 March—but will he indicate whether these principles find support with him? I am minded to support them—not just the provisions that focus compensation towards those on the lowest incomes or those who are being made compulsorily redundant, rather than opting for voluntary severance, but most of all the idea that compensation should be related to the status of the employee who is being made redundant. After all, we are talking about not a bonus or a pension scheme, but compensation for losing livelihoods. Therefore, compensation ought to take into account the consequences for the individual and their ability to survive after they leave the civil service.

In that regard, although I cast no aspersions on such people as workers, a difference has to made between a relatively high-paid civil servant working around the corner in Whitehall who is made redundant in the centre of the capital city and who has the experience and opportunity to readily seek alternative employment, and someone working at a basic administrative grade in Gateshead or somewhere else where there may be more challenges in the labour market. I commend that principle to the Government in their approach.

Finally, as with so many other things, I ask the Minister to look north for inspiration and see what is happening across the border in Scotland. Scottish civil servants, if they are working directly for the Government, are under the auspices of the same scheme, but they constitute only a small part of the public sector national workforce in Scotland. With regard to the rest, the Scottish Government are undertaking a consultation about severance arrangements in the public sector more generally. In Scotland, they have proceeded on the basis of consultation. The Government are not being taken to court and there is a not an imminent dispute with the civil servants’ trade unions. If this can be done correctly in Edinburgh, perhaps the Minister can take inspiration from that and make sure it is done correctly in Westminster.