PCS – WRITTEN EVIDENCE (PSR0067)

House of Lords Public Services Coronavirus Inquiry – PCS Written Evidence Brief

  1. PCS represents around 180,000 staff in the Civil Service and related agencies, bodies and contractors. Our members are currently classed as key workers as part of the Government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
  2. For over a decade, the civil service has suffered from chronically low pay and understaffing.
  3. The impact of Covid-19 has compounded the concerns PCS has consistently raised about the limited ability of the civil service to offer essential services that the public relies on. 
  4. Between 2009 – 2016, the size of the civil service shrunk by 19%.
  5. Since the Brexit referendum result in June 2016, the number of civil servants has increased every quarter but despite this, PCS feels that the civil service and its related areas are still massively understaffed.
  6. Since 2010 civil service pay has fallen in comparison with the cost of living.
  7. The average civil servant, on a salary of £26,000, is now worse off by £2,110 a year.
  8. Average civil service pay has fallen in value by comparison with local government, health and education, by 11.4%.
  9. In 2010 the government implemented a two-year pay freeze, which was followed by a six-year pay cap of 1%. During this period average salary levels in the civil service have fallen in value, by comparison with inflation, by between 8.8% (CPI) and 15.2% (RPI).
  10.                     A 10% pay increase will restore the value of civil service pay not just with inflation, but with other public sector workers in local government, health and education.
  11.                     There are over 200 sets of delegated pay negotiations in the civil service and related areas – this is a huge waste of resources that needs to be addressed. Delegated pay negotiations have led to different settlement dates and in some departments, multi-year deals.
  12.                     Each year, without any negotiation with the union, the Treasury publishes Pay Remit Guidance. This means that, while negotiations with unions are delegated to departments, their hands are tied by the Treasury.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

  1.                     Since reaching a peak following the financial crisis, DWP staffing has fallen from over 130,000 in 2011 to just over 78,000 at the time that the lockdown began.
  2.                     Whilst no amount of reasonable spare capacity could have coped with the sudden influx of over 2 million new UC claims, DWP resources were so stretched that even a small increase in claims would have been difficult to deal with.
  3.                     The DWP’s People and Locations programme, which saw the closure of many Jobcentres and some back-room processing sites has left DWP critically short of accommodation, meaning that it will struggle to fit any new members of staff into its existing estate.
  4.                     DWP had not invested in IT in the same way as many other government departments, such as HMRC.
  5.                     DWP only had enough IT kit (even with sourcing what extra it could after the pandemic hit) to allow just over 20,000 of its staff to work from home.
  6.                     There are still over 60% of the DWP workforce coming into an office to work. Not because the work cannot be done from home, but because there is insufficient equipment to allow them to do so.
  7.                     The department does not normally use agency workers but has engaged Brooke Street to provide it with extra staff. Although the number of extra recruits has been relatively small (around 2,000) compared to what it needs.
  8.                     A senior DWP manager has advised PCS that to maintain the extra claims they have had going forward, re-introducing Work Coach activity, ongoing maintenance etc. DWP would need in the region of 31,000 extra staff.

HMRC

  1.                     PCS represents around 35,000 workers in HMRC.
  2.                     The whole department has suffered from chronically low pay for over a decade.
  3.                     The median salary in HMRC is now the lowest in the whole of the civil service.
  4.                     12,000 HMRC staff (around 1 in 5) are paid the legal minimum or only a few pence above.
  5.                     When a minimum wage increase comes into force every April, HMRC has to uplift the pay for thousands of staff. If it not, thousands of staff would be paid below the minimum wage.
  6.                     In the 2019 Civil Service People Survey, HMRC had the lowest employee engagement score of any UK government department.
  7.                     HMRC has played a pivotal role during the pandemic by delivering the job retention scheme.
  8.                     Despite this, the department is pressing on with plans to close 90% of its local offices and replacing them with fewer than 20 large regional hubs, affecting 2,000 staff.
  9.                     The overwhelming majority of HMRC staff are currently able to work from home and PCS has been calling on HMRC to learn the lessons from the crisis.
  10.                     PCS had received a written assurance from Cabinet Office and Treasury minister Lord Agnew, that redundancies would only go ahead if they were “necessary and unavoidable”. PCS made the point to the Government that redundancies cannot be described as “unavoidable” if they’ve just launched a project aimed at avoiding them.
  11.                     PCS highlighted the fact that now members have the ability to work effectively from home, coupled with the government’s policy on close-quarters working, the department should adjust its location strategy.
  12.                     Current estimates are that later this year HMRC will need to recruit around 3,000 staff to assist the department’s work relating to the UK exit from the EU transition period.

 

 

Outsourcing

  1.                     The Civil Service and its related areas employ outsourced workers across many of its sectors. The roles are predominantly facilities-based, such as catering, cleaning, security and reception. The majority of people performing these roles are BAME and women.
  2.                     Outsourced workers employed in the civil service are paid on or only slightly above the minimum wage (£8.92). As well as being on the minimum wage, outsourced workers are also on minimum terms and conditions too - most workers aren’t entitled to sick pay and holiday pay.
  3.                     The roles carried out by outsourced workers prohibit them from homeworking and they’ve been doing vital work that has kept the country going during this unprecedented pandemic. A temporary arrangement was reached to allow outsourced workers to claim sick day from day one, rather than day three. While this was welcome, PCS has made it clear that this should become a permanent policy.
  4.                     PCS has also been using this issue to call an end to the two-tier workforce in the civil service. Every worker in the civil service should be entitled to the same terms and conditions and no worker should be paid below the real living wage (with London weighting).
  5.                     In the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, PCS has been dealing with some issues regarding outsourced workers and have encountered some problems with getting hold of the Risk Assessments for outsourced workers etc.
  6.                     This is hugely significant because, in a pandemic situation, this affects core Civil Servants as well as outsourced workers. This has reinforced concerns about the whole principle of outsourcing and how it isn't safe or efficient to privatise services.

 

Conclusion

  1.                     The crisis has shown that many people can be found alternative ways of working and redundancies are not necessary in the context of office closures.
  2.                     Across the civil service, PCS has made it clear that rather than cutting public services to the bone, there needs to be investment. That means an end to a two-tier workforce by bringing outsourced workers back in-house.
  3.                     This investment also needs to ensure there is enough spare capacity, both in the workforce and the estates, to cope with sudden influxes of work following a surge in demand for services.