Select Committee on Treasury Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Public and Commercial Service Union Branch, HM Treasury

  1.  Thank you for your letter of 12 May 2000 to HM Treasury Departmental Trade Union Side inviting the trade unions to submit evidence to the Select Committee. I am replying on behalf of the PCS.


  2.  There are three recognised trade unions in HM Treasury. Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), First Division Association (FDA) and the Institution of Professional Managers and Specialists (IPMS). Broadly speaking PCS represents the executive and administration grades. FDA the senior civil service and staff who are progressing through the former "fast stream" programmes, and the IPMS, technical grades specifically members of library staff.

  3.  All three unions are national unions with members across the civil and public services and PCS in particular has a growing presence in commercial organisations following government transfers to the private sector.


  4.  We would first like to note several management initiatives and achievements which reflect well on the Treasury and its recognition of the need to take forward the Modernising Government Agenda for the benefit of staff:

    (a)  the achievement of the standard for Investors in People in December: one aspect of this success has been the Treasury Development Program of training courses;

    (b)  the debate around and issue of a document setting out the "Career Deal" for Treasury staff. Amongst other matters, this provides overdue acknowledgement of the need for better arrangements for career advice and guidance, and of the role of specialist groups within the Department;

    (c)  Management's commitment to targets for diversity, 360 degree appraisal and other initiatives arising both from the Modernising Government agenda and Sir Richard Wilson's report to the Prime Minister on Civil Service Reform;

    (d)  senior management's willingness to examine issues such as the particular needs of staff at ranges A to C (formerly Administrative Assistants, Administrative Officers, Personal Secretaries and Executive Officers); equality of treatment;

    (e)  the plans for modernising the Treasury's main building in Great George Street, which will improve working conditions and contribute to better team working than the current, cellular offices.

  5.  We think on the whole that senior management's interest in the welfare of staff has increased in recent years and that Treasury's "culture" is somewhat more open and tolerant than it used to be.

  6.  The main, continuing challenges for the Department's management are: translating accurately Ministers' requirements into likely demands upon officials; obtaining the staff to meet those needs; and thus avoiding excessive pressure upon officials which can lead to the risk of mistakes, stress, poor working relations within the Department or with partners outside it and the loss of a balance between work and life outside work. Here, on the whole, we think there is room for improvement.

  7.  In addition we are mindful of the Department's poor record for sustaining initiatives and hope that the ambitious programme of management change being undertaken will succeed. This need to sustain initiatives has been recognised by management during the IiP process and as a result they have given us their reassurance.


  8.  PCS and FDA are signatories of the Civil Service Partnership Agreement recently negotiated between Cabinet Office and Council of Civil Service Unions. In HM Treasury we are keen to work with the Department in partnership under this umbrella agreement and we will be seeking a similar commitment from the department.

  9.  To make partnership real to our members we will want to identify with the Department projects with measurable, realistic and clear outcomes that can be worked on a partnership basis. The review of the Department's staff appraisal system is one project that we are particularly interested in taking forward on this basis.

  10.  Partnership will require working through issues together from concept to delivery, sharing agendas and communicating jointly. This will require a new way of operating industrial relations in HM Treasury which has tended to operate on the trade unions reacting to Treasury Management Board views and on occasion non-negotiable decisions, recent changes to the appraisal system being a prime example.


Staffing, Workloads and Stress

  11.  The ministerial requirements have developed at some pace under this administration with two comprehensive spending reviews, major legislation on financial services, working families tax credit and single European currency to note a few with more major projects being prepared.

  12.  Moreover, we are aware that for some years the Department has, at times, struggled to recruit staff with the level of skills required to meet its ministerial requirements. The department has made frequent use of long-term temporary promotion to fill gaps. Furthermore, it has been unable to attract sufficient graduate recruits, in 1999 for example, the Department secured only 16 entrants compared to a target of 34.

  13.  Staffing problems coupled with the major ministerial requirements alongside the Department's day-to-day work have taken their toll on staff and the recently published Stress Audit has highlighted the enormous pressures staff are working under. Long hours, excessive overtime are symptoms of a bigger problem and falls short of government policies on balancing work and home life. Indeed 15 per cent at Range E, formerly grade 7, and 29 per cent of those at Range F, formerly grade 5, at least 10 hours or more work than their conditioned hours each week.

  14.  The recent Stress Audit (conduct by an independent academic body) has provided evidence of an intolerable level of bullying across the Department as a result of these pressures, behaviour, which is, rightly condemned by management and unions alike.


  15.  The 1999 pay settlement and encouraging attitudes from management during this year's negotiations point to a fresh approach to Treasury pay.

  16.  Traditionally the Department has been a low payer and sets a standard to other departments to moderate pay, which has not been conducive to attracting the calibre of staff required.

  17.  The PCS hope that future pay settlements will continue to be positive, and sufficient to recruit and retain staff and in keeping with the commitment from Sunningdale on developing talent and setting a positive example to other departments when setting their pay.

Training and Career Development

  18.  There are a number of successes under this heading highlighted in paragraph 4 that the PCS have drawn to the Committee's attention as part of our recognition that the Department is striving to improve Training and Development.

  19.  However, there is much work still to be done. Looking in particular at the Career Deal we are not convinced that the commitment to developing staff of all grades can be matched by jobs available, especially for generalist staff and if the proper resources will be made available to fulfil the expectations raised by the Career Deal.

Recognition of Management Skills

  20.  Traditionally management skills have been low profile and given little recognition compared to technical and other specialist skills. The PCS believe that management is a key skill and should be given the same status as other responsibilities.

  21.  We are encouraged that the department is taking steps to improve the management skills of team leaders and line managers but have concerns about the impact on the demands of these postholders, who will be expected to continue with the other aspects of their already overloaded posts which may not marry well with additional management responsibility. As with career development and training we believe that the centre needs to take more responsibility, there needs to be a structured management development programme, a much higher profile and support for the importance of management roles.


  22.  The PCS unreservedly welcome the Permanent Secretary's recent endorsement of the value of diversity and the determination of management to make the Department "reflect better the whole of the country's population". We support the Diversity Action Plan and are encouraged by the ambitious targets for increasing the representation and career prospects of women and ethnic minorities across the grades. The Plan is strong on diagnostics, awareness raising, and better training opportunities, however, we are concerned that no standing strategic steering group is in place to take the plan forward.

  23.  The unions are disappointed that suggested measures to encourage a better balance between work and lifestyle merely reflect existing policies that are perceived by a majority of staff to have had little impact. We would like to see management re-evaluating its approach to the problem. The commitment to monitor excessive hours to reduce it where possible is ambiguous. There needs to be a more radical approach, including a commitment to improve resources dedicated to reducing staff workloads.


  24.  We are pleased that the Department has, at last, been given the finance to complete the refurbishment of the main HM Treasury building. We are convinced that this will be of great benefit to staff by creating a much better working environment.


  25.  We are grateful for this opportunity to present evidence to the Committee.

  26.  As you have seen from the content of our evidence we are very mindful of the status of HM Treasury and we are appreciative of the good work that the Department is undertaking to improve matters for its staff.

  27.  I am copying this letter to Sir Andrew Turnbull (Permanent Secretary, HM Treasury), Nicholas Holgate (Chair, FDA Branch HM Treasury), Graham Belchamber (Negotiations Officer, PCS National Union) and Tom Grinyer (Parliamentary Officer, PCS National Union)

20 June 2000

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