Q. What guarantee is there that the Government will not come back to make further changes to the terms of the Civil Service Compensation Scheme?
A. Members will appreciate that it is not possible to have a failsafe legislative lock on the terms of any statutory scheme. A future Parliament can always unpick it. A key negotiating objective for the FDA was to secure a wording in any agreement that would make it as binding as possible. This was raised in direct meetings with the current Minister for the Cabinet Office and with his predecessor, who had instigated the consultation in February. Both Ministers acknowledged our concern on this point and expressed an intent to give as much reassurance as they could within the constraint of not being able to bind a future Parliament.
The current Minister has advised us that he intends to include the following passage in a Ministerial statement to Parliament:
"This administration will not seek to deviate from this agreement and whilst I cannot bind future administrations I cannot see circumstances in which successive administrations would seek to do so either."
Whilst the intent of this statement is welcome it does not, and could not, provide a guarantee that a future Parliament will not seek to make further changes. In the end only our collective strength can protect our terms and conditions and that is why it is so important to have a high level of membership density across the civil service.
Q. Has the FDA taken legal advice on the Government's approach to implementing a new Compensation Scheme and are there grounds for a successful challenge through a judicial review?
A. The FDA has taken legal advice on the Government's intention to change the terms of the Civil Service Compensation Scheme. This has included taking advice in relation to the concurrent consultations launched by the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury in February and the consultation obligations set out in the Superannuation Act 1972.
The FDA's objective, as always, is to negotiate with a view to achieving the best possible outcome for our members. Taking legal action, such as instigating a judicial review, would only be considered if it was felt that this would deliver a better outcome than negotiation, in a similar way that consideration is made to the prospect of industrial action.
As will be clear from all the information provided to members in conjunction with this ballot, the FDA has been able to secure improvements through our negotiations with the Cabinet Office and we are now recommending acceptance of the terms we have negotiated. It is evident therefore that we do not consider that legal action would offer a better or more productive outcome for members.
Had we been advised at any stage over the past nine months that there were grounds for a successful challenge through judicial review, and that taking this course would deliver a better outcome for members than available through negotiation, then our approach would have been different.
Q. The threat to impose a worse settlement if members reject the offer being made is effectively "take this or else" and could be described as bullying. What can be the justification for this approach?
A. Neither the FDA nor the other unions involved in the negotiations that led to the final offer - Prospect, Unison, GMB and the Defence Police Federation - believe that change is justified. We have all been determined to make sure that we could negotiate the best possible offer rather than sitting back and giving the Government a free hand.
The Cabinet Office was intending to implement a new scheme in June and the FDA (together with other unions) has been successful in negotiating a final offer that is an improved version of that scheme. The potential for reaching an agreement was critical to unlocking these improvements to the original offer and that is why the Cabinet Office has indicated that if agreement cannot be reached, then it will implement the original offer. To put this another way, the Cabinet Office is effectively stating that if it has to implement a new scheme without agreement then it will be the one outlined in June, which conforms to the limits set by HM Treasury for all public sector schemes. If agreement can be reached, this creates the scope to go beyond the Treasury limits and an improved scheme can be implemented.
This has been a complex and difficult process. Whilst the FDA has always maintained that the proposals were neither warranted nor justified, the approach that the union adopted has ensured that we have been able to mitigate the worst excesses of the proposals outlined at the start of the consultation in February and made some real improvements to the scheme.
Q. Are the terms for those over Normal Pension Age changing?
A. Those over Normal Pension Age, which for most will be either 60 or 65, will continue to have any compensation payments capped at six months' pay.
Any payment will be calculated on the basis of three weeks per year of service up to the six months cap.
For those approaching pension age, severance payments will be tapered to the 6 month limit as is currently the case.
Q. When will the changes to the Compensation Scheme take effect?
A. The intention of the Cabinet Office is that a new scheme will be laid before Parliament in early November and new terms will come into effect the day after.
The final offer is 'conditional on acceptance by a sufficient number of unions, which the Minister for the Cabinet Office considers appropriate to constitute an agreement.'
So if the offer is not accepted, the Minister intends to implement the alternative scheme. The details of the final offer and the alternative are set out in the ballot documentation [link].
Q. The final offer refers to employer top-ups to pensions only being available for those over 55 now and then 'tracking 10 years behind state pension age'.
Please can you explain what this 'tracking 10 years' means? Does it mean my own State Pension Age or does it mean the State Pension Age in place at the time of departure?
A. It will be the State Pension Age at the time a voluntary redundancy or potentially a voluntary exit or efficiency exit agreement is signed.
Currently it is expected that the SPA will increase from 65 to 66 by October 2020, at which point the minimum age for eligibility for an employer top-up would move to 56.
Q. Will the tariff of three weeks per year of service apply in all circumstances?
A. The tariff of three weeks per year of service is mandatory for Voluntary or Compulsory Redundancy. Employers have discretion on what tariff to offer for Voluntary Exit.
This can range from a minimum of statutory redundancy terms up to a maximum of three weeks per year of service.
Q. Does the proposed change in notice periods apply just to new starters or to those getting new contracts, on promotion for example?
A. The notice period of three months on Compulsory Redundancy will only apply to new starters to the civil service after the new scheme is implemented.