6 May 2021

Natural England - Remove the Pay Claim

Natural England's management has announced it will not be presenting a pay flex case to Treasury this year, for the second year running.  

You may well be anticipating or attending a briefing from your Director.  PCS had been anticipating this would be the conclusion that would be arrived at from NE and now that has been confirmed.  It will be no surprise to you however that we are extremely disappointed at this. 

Management continue to present that they have been working through identifying evidence to establish whether they can put forward a case to address the issues.

Projects with staff and union participation have been running for two years sequentially and for the second year our executive has decided not to submit a case to Treasury.  We do not believe that the last two years have moved us forward in any real sense.  We argued last year to put forward a case as we expected that it would be harder this year, as it has proven to be. 

Management taking this stance leaves us with the possibility of another year with an ineffectual pay deal which does not deal with a broken pay system and the funding we have being used to patch up its failings.  The key failings being low starting pay, historical low pay issues, slow progression, target pay rates set an unreasonable distance, gender and other equality pay gaps.

PCS’s commitment

We will continue to apply pressure upon the employer to attend to these issues.  Nationally, PCS is now adopting a sectoral approach to pay negotiations.  Our pay bid this year has consequentially been lodged with the Department for consideration.  PCS’ vision is that we can deal with pay as a Departmental grouping, saving time and resources on repeat consultations with each of the employers which result in largely similar outcomes anyway.  This builds solidarity amongst PCS members in the Defra Group and the strength of our industrial leverage.  NE management are clear that they are unable to resolve the pay issues facing staff.  One of the reasons to get Defra, as a whole, to look at the inequality of pay across all of its ALBs is to look at how we can get those comparative differences addressed.

Our line on trading in terms

NE’s management have now referenced recent public sector pay deals in particular the one struck with HMRC.  To achieve these multiyear deal terms and conditions were traded, for example flat rate pay for weekend working.  The deal was based on many years of differences of contracts and from high levels of overtime.   Equally we do not want to be exchanging favourable terms and conditions to realise short term benefits of a very slightly better pay deal for just a few years.

NE management have said they will now look at workforce change as a way of freeing up funds to pay for pay reform.   The way that NE funding has changed means that any additional funding provided to NE cannot be used to properly pay staff. 

Reaction to a 2023 pay case

You will not be surprised that the promise of a longer-term pay case and a commitment from management to submit a pay claim in January 2023 seems a bit hollow to us. 

NE management keep referencing that the HMRC case took 3 years.   The JUF and management have been discussing the importance of a pay case in NE for longer than that.

We have discussed and largely agree on the issues and problems and want our management to press on with the pay case over this summer.

The recent history of Natural England’s pay system has been a series of damaging issues.  The signs were there when we agree to artificially tinker with progression to move performing individuals up to the mid-point… until the money ran out.  We have seen the budget directed to the lower grades to comply with minimum wage standards and only last year money directed to the senior grades to attend to equal pay issues.  All of this against the backdrop of a protracted period of austerity has rendered our organisation’s pay system ineffectual and unfair.  Something must change.

The PCS membership were balloted over pay but despite an overwhelming majority of those voting for action we did not achieve the threshold we need to achieve a legal mandate for action.  We did still communicate with management that strength of feeling and that this still amounted to us be formally in dispute with Natural England on this issue.  To date we have yet to be offered a meeting with Natural England to discuss a pathway to resolve this dispute.

We will be setting up a PCS NE members meeting and if you would like to get more involved in the campaign then please get in touch.

PCS wants:

  • Decent pay for NE staff with pay parity with the rest of the group
  • A rate for the job and an end to meaningless pay bands
  • An end to the in year recognition scheme
  • Management to properly stand up for NE on for pay
  • A real change in approach that protects staff
  • Frequent, meaningful and productive engagement with trade unions.
  • An overall package that makes NE an attractive place to build a career