Almost a third of senior civil servants want to leave as soon as possible: major survey reveals endemic discontent


Commenting today on the publication of the FDA and Prospect’s submission to the Senior Salaries Review Body, FDA General Secretary Dave Penman said:

“Any employer finding out that 95% of its most senior staff are dissatisfied with its pay arrangements would recognise the risk this posed to its future success. 

“That nearly a third of top performing senior civil servants want to leave as soon as possible – on top of 70% of the SCS reporting that they had seriously considered leaving in the last 12 months - should cause alarm bells to ring in all corners of Government.

“The Government’s own evidence shows that SCS remuneration is now barely comparable with the private sector, as the pay gap at senior levels is so great.  Increasingly this is now also the situation within the public sector as civil servants look - and in some cases, move - across to the NHS for salaries that are 100 or 200% higher.

“It’s no longer the case that the Government is sleep-walking into disaster in its treatment of the civil service.  The FDA, Senior Salaries Review Body, National Audit Office, Public Administration Select Committee and Civil Service Commission have all highlighted serious issues around SCS pay that go to the heart of the sustainability of an efficient and effective civil service.

“It’s time the Government heeded our call for a fundamental review of pay and reward, rather than fiddling about with special allowances in a fruitless attempt to paper over the cracks.”

Notes for editors

1. The FDA is the trade union for the UK's senior public servants and professionals. FDA membership includes more than 19,000 senior civil servants, Government policy advisors, prosecutors, diplomats, tax professionals, economists, solicitors and other professionals working across Government and the NHS.

2. The FDA (formerly the First Division Association) should be referred to simply as "The FDA" and can be described as "the senior public servants’ union". 

3. The FDA can be found on Twitter @FDA_union and at

4. The FDA’s alternative White Paper - ‘Delivering for the Nation: Securing a World-Class Civil Service – outlining our analysis of the challenges facing the civil service and our recommendations for change, can be read here.

5. In October 2013, the FDA - jointly with Prospect - submitted written evidence to the Senior Salaries Review Body.  This evidence can be downloaded from the FDA website here. Both unions gave oral evidence to the SSRB in December 2013.

6. The Government submitted its evidence to the SSRB in January 2014.  This evidence can be downloaded here.

7. The SCS pay survey was conducted online over two weeks in September 2013 by SCS members of the FDA and Prospect. More than 500 current members of the SCS filled in a 50 question survey.

8. Key figures from the 2013 survey (comparable 2012 figure in brackets):


  • 45% have not received a consolidated pay award this year
  • 76% have not received a non-consolidated pay award this year (75%)
  • 95% are not satisfied with the overall pay arrangements in the SCS including 56% who were very dissatisfied (92% and 55% respectively)
  • 93% do not agree that their pay award should be capped until at least 2017 in the interests of the UK economy
  • 95% are not satisfied with the pace with which they are progressing in their pay band (93%)
  • 92% do not consider that the SCS pay system produces fair and equitable results (89%) including 91% of top performers
  • When asked how SCS members think their pay compares with similar jobs in the private sector, 85% said that on the basis of available evidence – chiefly job adverts and contact with comparable job holders – they thought they were paid less than the private sector.  In comparison with the wider public sector, on the same basis 57% think they are paid less than similar post holders.

Recruitment & Retention

  • 42% report recruitment difficulties in their organisation
  • 44% report retention difficulties - perhaps unsurprising as only 44% would recommend the civil service as a career choice.
  • The main functions or posts highlighted as having particular problems with recruitment/retention (there wasn’t much distinction between the two) were commercially skilled roles and technical specialists – including scientists, lawyers, IT, tax professionals and procurement.
  • Again, the issue of progression and comparability features with difficulties motivating staff at deputy director level to apply for more senior posts when there is little or no financial reward in doing so.
  • Another area flagged up by some respondents was the foreseeable, yet unaddressed, issues flowing from the demographics of current staff with some predicting significant issues in the next few years as a result of particularly high numbers of retirements among key staff, again particularly those with technical expertise. 


  • 40% do not feel they have adequate opportunities to enhance their SCS competencies primarily due to lack of time and lack of opportunities.
  • More than a quarter cite budgetary factors as a reason they are not able to enhance their competencies.


  • 86% at least understand the pay and performance management arrangements although a surprising 10% of top performers don’t.

  • However, 83% do not see a clear link between their performance and their pay – including 40% of top performers.

  • 40% do not think promotion processes are clear and transparent.

  • Nearly a quarter do not consider their performance objectives reflect their performance (a fifth) and nearly a third don’t think their current core competencies reflect the main responsibilities of their role (a quarter).

  • Overall however, 35% haven’t yet agreed an annual performance agreement for 2013 (33%).


  • Only 3% say their morale has increased in the last year with 67% saying it has decreased (4% and 72%).

  • The main reasons cited are pay: 80%, pay progression – 69%, pensions – 60% and pay comparability – 58%.
  • 69% feel less optimistic about their job than they did 12 months ago including 59% or top performers, 69% have seriously considered leaving the SCS (66%) including more than 68% of top performers and 70% are more inclined to look for a job outside the civil service than they were a year ago (63%) including nearly three quarters of top performers.
  • Nearly a third said they would like to leave the civil service as soon as possible (a quarter) including 27% of top performers.

Who responded?

  • Of those who responded, almost a third were in the top performance group with a further 63% in the achieving group (compared with the performance management system that sets 25% in ‘top’ and 65% in ‘achieving’).
  • 81% were recruited into the SCS from within the civil service with 11% recruited from the private sector.
  • Two thirds were male and 93% from a white, British ethnic background.
  • Three quarters were from SCS 1 and respondents generally had either 4-6 years or 11-15 years’ service.
  • The largest single group, around a fifth of respondents, are earning between £65,000 and £70,000 a year.

9.    For further information contact:

  • Naomi Cooke, FDA Assistant General Secretary, tel: 020 7401 5555 or 07718 110590
  • Kay Hender, Communications Officer, tel: 020 7401 5555 or 07980 700747.