So once again news has broken in the media that the MOD civil service is to get a bonus, or more precisely £30 million worth of bonus payments this year. The Mail is outraged, and other newspapers seem to be gearing up for the latest instalment of ‘lets all burn the civil service heathens’…
Despite appearances to the contrary this is not a ‘bonus’ in the Merchant Banker sense. Many years ago a decision was imposed on the MOD that as part of efforts to improve performance some of the annual pay award would be set aside, and instead of forming consolidated pay, which was pensionable, would instead be paid as a bonus (which was not pensionable). The theory was sound, more money = improved performance and a smaller pension bill. The reality has been 10 years of changing assessment methods, different criteria for qualification and a sense of frustration by many civil servants that they are being hung out to dry in the press for having the audacity to be paid.
Humphrey has never met a single MOD civil servant in 10 years who supports the bonus system. In its earliest iterations it was divisive, as it meant 50% of a team would get an award, while 50% would not. Latterly it has been awarded to everyone who has met their performance criteria – in other words, if you turned up to work, did your job and didn’t get into trouble, then you’d get a basic bonus. Put more effort in, which could be demonstrated in a short statement and confirmed by management, and you might get a bit more. The problem was that goalposts varied tremendously, as the definition of merit seemed to change from team to team.
Next year it is promised that things will change and that only the top performing 10-20% of civil servants will get a ‘bonus’. This seems an effort to move it away from the concept of providing a top up to basic salary, and instead rewarding real achievement. Even now though some of the authors friends think that 10% is too large a proportion – after all, if only 10% of staff get a bonus, then the temptation for report writers is to lead to grade inflation to try and get everyone in on the act.
Personally the author has a dislike of the bonus scheme – why not use the very effective system of rewarding good performance through thank you letters from seniors, GEMS payments, the honours system and the like? Why do we have to go through an annual process of being castigated in the press for receiving payments tied into doing our job? Bluntly, a short personal note from a senior officer acknowledging something the author has done would mean a lot more than a small cash payment.
Tired old ClichesThe one thing that has annoyed all of the authors acquaintances today is the way that the media have trotted out the same old ‘pen pushers’ clichés. Apparently while the forces will ‘only’ get a 1% pay rise, while shivering to sleep at night in cold barracks, yet the civil service is laughing it up with their £30 million bonus.
Let’s be really clear about this – the civil service is now in a three year pay freeze, and within the MOD there is also a pay scale progression freeze. In real terms this means each civil servant in the MOD would usually progress one point up a pay spine each year, worth roughly 2.5% of salary. For the last three years, this has not happened, meaning that in broad terms, MOD civil servants are all being paid 7.5% less now than they were expecting to be back in 2010. At the same time it looks like a pay award is likely to be very small for the next two years, meaning in real terms most civilian staff are looking at best at a sub 1% pay rise, possibly as low as 0.1-0.5% in some cases. In the case of the bonus, this was part of the final payment from the last pay award, and was contractually obligated to be paid.
While this is going on though, although the military continue to have a pay freeze too, they have not had the same progression freeze on their pay scales, meaning they are still getting a real terms pay rise each year. Alright it’s not much, but the idea that the civil service is supping Bolly, while the military starve is as far from the truth as you can get. In reality the military are paid vastly more than their civilian counterparts.
What has really enraged many of the authors friends today is the way that this news was leaked to the media before it had been announced to the MOD. Staff knew a payment of some form was coming, but to read in the Daily Telegraph more informed comment prior to being informed by their own management has really upset people.
The author has no idea who leaked this story; it could be a civilian, military or political background. But he is dismayed that once again it seems okay to try to do down the civilian component of Defence. It sounds silly, but the vast majority of staff who work for MOD are genuinely really proud of what they do, how they support the military and how in a small way they can help the armed forces achieve success. It really hurts to open the papers and find ourselves being cast in the worst possible light by the media, particularly when you suspect that that story can realistically only have come from somewhere within your own organisation. It hurts to know that someone, somewhere, cares so little for the civilian component of defence, that they are willing to crush peoples morale and see people genuinely upset in order to achieve a desired effect.
The author knows people who are really upset about this. The public neither know, nor wish to know the intricacies of how the MOD CS get paid. They do get angry when they think that our military is suffering from a lack of funds and they blame the civil service. The person that leaked this doesn’t have to go and meet new people and admit, almost shamefacedly, that he is a civil servant. The last time the bonus system was in the media, the author discussed what he did at a black tie dinner party he was publicly lambasted for 20 minutes by his dinner colleagues for his own personal failure to support the front line in some undefinable way. Now, he knows it’s that time all over again as people will once again be incredibly rude and direct their anger on the civil servants who have no control over this policy, and not the people who came up with it in the first place.
The person that leaked this will not have to put up with peoples anger which is directed against the civil servants who have done nothing more than try to do a difficult job for very little money at a time when tens of thousands of their colleagues are being made redundant. They didn’t choose to implement a bonus policy, but they are the ones who will face public anger over today’s announcement. The anger is there and it is real, because the author has himself experienced it.
It would be nice if there was some kind of defence, some strong statement standing up for the MOD civil service and an effort to remind the public at large that we are all part of UK defence, no matter whether we wear combats or pinstriped suits.
The MOD civil service is an amazing organisation, filled with some of the brightest, funniest, astute and dedicated people the author has ever met. They are almost all passionate about their work, they are hugely proud of serving their country and they genuinely do care about Defence. They deserve far more respect than they get in the media, because they too play a vital role in keeping this country safe. Don’t judge them by their payment system, judge them by what they do for this country, and remember that even if they don’t wear uniform, they too play a vital part in the defence of the UK.