Skip to main content

Civil service morale hit by chronic pay issues as recruitment and retention of staff at risk

22 March 2024

  • Most Department do not know how much recruitment costs or how to make it more efficient
  • Not enough data on staff underperformance to know if it is being managed effectively

Morale in the civil service is being lowered by chronic pay issues, risking an inability to recruit and retain skilled staff. In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) identifies longstanding pay issues within the civil service, reducing levels of staff satisfaction. The report raises concerns that this damages departments’ ability to attract and keep staff, including specialists who could expect competitive private sector salaries.

Civil service pay at almost all levels has seen a long-term decline, with median pay decreasing in real terms for most staff since 2013. In evidence to the PAC’s inquiry, the Government recognised that this stores up increasing problems of competitiveness with the wider economy for the civil service, and affects departments’ ability to recruit. Unattractive pay is the typical reason for failed recruitment campaigns at the civil service resulting in no appointable candidates.

Other civil service pay issues highlighted in the report include pay disparities between departments for staff at the same grade level, which can lead to unhealthy and unproductive competition among departments for staff, and a lack of coherence in how departments use pay to reward civil servants for good performance.

The report also finds that civil service recruitment is too slow, particularly compared with the private sector. On average it takes 99 days to hire new staff, with candidates requiring the highest level of security clearance taking an additional 171 days on average. Departmental data on recruitment and security vetting times are also patchy and inconsistent, which holds back work on how to speed up the process.

The PAC’s inquiry found that not enough data is collected by departments on how many of their staff are underperforming in their organisations. Most do not monitor what happens to staff who are identified as underperforming. The report warns that, without tracking this information, departments cannot tell whether performance in their staff is being effectively managed, or issues identified and addressed.

The Government’s Civil Service People Plan, which envisions a smaller, more efficient and more productive service in which civil servants are rewarded for delivery, has ambitious aims, but is vague on what specific actions will be taken and how success will be judged. The PAC’s report is calling for more detailed explanations of the commitments in the Plan.

Chair's comment

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“Without the dedicated efforts and specialist skills of our nation’s civil servants, the machinery of any government grinds to a halt.It is welcome to see Government pointing in an ambitious direction with a plan for a smaller, better paid and more highly skilled civil service, but these outcomes will not materialise without more specific aims.

For too long Whitehall has found itself in a losing recruitment battle with the private sector, without the right data, curiosity, or willingness to act to tackle the problem. The challenges this country faces are immense – an ageing population, climate change and a more volatile and hostile world, to name a few. Whitehall needs to plan to ensure it has the right skills and rewards to deliver.”

Further information

Image: Pixabay