Pay reform for the senior civil service

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Sarah Nickson; Alex Thomas; Suhasini Vira; Jordan Urban

November 9, 2021

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at current levels of senior civil service pay.

The government must commit to ringfencing the £45m needed to fund its promised reform of senior civil service pay or risk undermining job satisfaction and performance. This report, commissioned by the Office of Manpower Economics, reviews current levels of senior civil service pay and assesses the government’s plans to introduce a “capability-based pay” system where senior civil servants are rated and paid as “developing”, “competent” or “expert”. With a decade of wage restraint meaning median civil service salaries have fallen in real terms by 14–17%, and a civil service director paid half of their private sector equivalent and two thirds of their public sector counterpart, the system needs reform to keep the best people in the right government jobs. The government says its plans, set out in its Declaration on Government Reform, published earlier this year and signed by the prime minister and cabinet secretary, will reward the most talented civil servants and encourage the development of deeper subject expertise. But failing to properly fund the initial £45m needed for the change, or the ongoing running costs of reform, would be worse for civil service morale and skills retention than doing nothing at all. The report also warns that reforming pay is unlikely to do much on its own to reduce job churn within the civil service. Our interviews with private sector experts, professional bodies and civil servants themselves found that changing the incentives for promotion and more focus from ministers and top officials on keeping people in post will make a bigger difference.