24 September 2021

Reform must deliver for government workers

Robert comments on the government’s Modernisation and Reform programme.

Civil service reform is back on the agenda following the recent publication of the Declaration on Government Reform and the launch of the Modernisation and Reform programme.

The planned changes are wide-ranging and will significantly impact PCS members. While some changes would be detrimental to members’ interests eg pledges to introduce capability pay and outsource more jobs; others sound promising eg improving diversity in recruitment and enhancing the service’s learning and development offer.

The impact of others is ambiguous. The promise to move 22,000 jobs out of London by 2030 could be beneficial if it spreads career development opportunities across the UK and is achieved voluntarily. However, it would be detrimental if it leads to forced relocations.

Similarly, the promise to encourage greater coordination of human resources between departments must be resisted if the government adopts the same approach taken with the Government Communications Service and cuts jobs. However, it could also be an opportunity to renew the case for the reintroduction of national pay bargaining, a longstanding demand of PCS. Michael Gove MP, the former head of the Cabinet Office, recognised that the government’s delegated approach to pay bargaining, which involves over 200 separate pay negotiations, is inefficient and has led to the ‘Balkanisation of the Civil Service’.

As a union, we must collectively resist any detrimental proposals, press the government to go further on beneficial changes, and suggest our own ideas. Why are outsourced workers not treated as civil servants? Why are there gaping pay disparities for the same grade between departments and public bodies? Why not empower individual workers to decide if they want to return to the office or not?

Track record

Some of the government’s stated ambitions will strike our members as disingenuous.

While the Declaration pledges to create more ‘highly-paid’ jobs, government workers have suffered over a decade of real-terms pay cuts. And while the Declaration promises to hold private contractors to account, outsourced workers have been forced to take strike action for basic rights such as the living wage, union recognition, and sick pay.

In his 2020 Ditchley Lecture, Michael Gove praised the government for being ‘pro-worker, pro-public servant’. The reality is that civil servants are over-paying into our pensions, our pay is under attack, and the Conservatives have eroded workplace rights and introduced draconian anti-trade union laws.

Ultimately, history has shown that the gains made by working people have resulted from self-organisation; not the benevolence of the powerful. The best way to secure meaningful and beneficial change is to get active in PCS and join your workmates in building a better future.