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Civil Service Compensation Scheme

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:00 pm on 19th March 2019.

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Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 5:00 pm, 19th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I congratulate Chris Stephens on securing this debate, and welcome the opportunity to respond to the points he has made.

Further to the point raised by Christian Matheson, I want to put on the record right from the beginning that of course the trade unions have a valuable and important part to play in debates around civil service terms and conditions. Indeed, I have met them frequently—both PCS and the other principal unions, Prospect and FDA, as well as GMB and others.

I know that in his role as chair of the PCS parliamentary group, the hon. Member for Glasgow South West takes a close interest in these matters, and I pay tribute to him. Whatever our political differences, I know he is a strong and effective advocate for the trade unions and for PCS, and he has demonstrated that again today. In my experience both as a Minister in the Cabinet Office and in my previous time working at 10 Downing Street, I have worked with some of the most committed, talented and hardworking public servants in our country.

At a time when the nation faces significant challenges, those public servants’ work is more important than ever, so I am happy to join hon. Members, in particular the hon. Members for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney) and for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) in paying tribute to them. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh East said, we need their skills more than ever at this time, as we face Brexit.

I certainly share hon. Members’ belief that all civil servants should be rewarded for the work they do, so that we can attract the best and brightest into the heart of Government. This debate relates principally to the compensation package available to civil servants when they are made redundant, but since hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for City of Chester, have raised the question of pay I want to address that briefly before addressing the rest of my remarks to the substance of the debate. The hon. Gentleman raised the point about the Government’s fiscal position and the spending backdrop against which we are making these decisions. I am glad he has recognised that the Government have made considerable progress in reducing the deficit. He is right that we have made a lot of progress: the deficit is down by four fifths since 2010, from about 10% of GDP to about 2%. None the less, the Government are still borrowing more than £40 billion every single year, so the pressure has not gone away and we must still take some difficult decisions.

The reason we must take those difficult decisions is that we spent over £50 billion on debt interest last year. That is more than we spend on schools, and more than we spend on our police and armed forces combined. There is still a strong countervailing pressure from the need to continue to bear down on expenditure. Pay forms a large part of Government expenditure, so pay has to be part of that mix.

The overall approach taken to pay is that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has made it clear that the overall cap has been lifted, but given the financial constraints within which we are operating, which is what the chief executive of the civil service was alluding to, it remains the case that central Government Departments have pencilled in—in fact, penned in—their funding. It is very clear from the Treasury how much budget has been allocated for pay rises, and in the coming financial year that is 1%.

That does not mean that Departments cannot go beyond that, but if they do, they must find efficiency savings to do so. In respect of all delegated levels of pay—that is to say, below the senior civil service—the process for determining pay awards is that it is up to each different Department to determine its pay award.