Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Civil Service wages bust inflation with 3% rise

Concern at failure to cut taxpayer-funded wage bill

By Margaret Canning

Salaries for nearly all civil servants in Northern Ireland grew by around 3% in the last financial year, new figures have shown.

Statistics showing pay increases for 97% of the workforce paid for by the public purse over 2013 to 2014 came as business lobby group the CBI demanded sustainable financial planning from the Executive.

The CBI called on the Executive to reduce the size of the public sector pay bill as figures showed pay packets were growing at above inflation for nearly all civil servants - in the year to December 2013, inflation was 2%.

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton said his department was looking at cutting the bill for civil servant pay.

"A recruitment freeze has already been implemented and my officials are considering a range of other measures, including a voluntary exit scheme and further pay restraint," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Any proposals put forward on public sector pay will be for the Executive to consider and agree on a way forward."

He said the Executive wanted to improve the performance of the private sector, which should create better-paid jobs and reduce the differential between it and the public sector.

"In addition, given the financial constraints in the Civil Service, it is likely that pay bill restraint will be a feature for the foreseeable future."

The average full-time basic salary of £24,728 contained in the Civil Service's own report on pay contrasts with the private sector full-time pay of £21,345 in the annual survey of of hours and earnings (ASHE).

According to yesterday's statistics, 97% of civil servants received an increase in their basic salary of up to 3.9%.

But some public servants who are not on Northern Ireland Civil Service pay scales - such as prison officers - did not receive any increases.

CBI regional director Nigel Smyth said: "It is worrying that the pay gap between the public sector and the private sector has continued to widen, despite the constraints we have been facing on public expenditure.

"While the latest labour market information this week suggests that pay growth in the private sector is now higher than in the public sector, average earnings in the public sector still remain an unsustainable, and unaffordable, 40% above private sector levels.

"With 57% of public expenditure relating to pay, the Northern Ireland Executive must reduce the size of the pay bill within the public sector."

Pay freezes were implemented in the Northern Ireland Civil Service in 2010 and 2011 but lifted in 2012.

Last week's ASHE gave the median public sector full-time wage - for those who were in their jobs for over one year - as £29,658, in contrast to £21,345 in the private sector.

By the ASHE measure, public sector pay was up 3.6%, compared with 3.7% in the private sector.

Recruitment specialist Neal Lucas said the higher wages in the public sector were making it harder to attract people to private enterprise.

"If those within the public sector continue to demand increased pay, in return they must deliver efficiencies and a more effective service to support growth within the private sector," he said.

But Paul MacFlynn, economist at left-wing thinktank the Neri Institute, said wage increases in all sectors were necessary to improve the economy.

"To argue that Northern Ireland's economy would be in better shape if public sector workers did not receive this increase makes no economic sense whatsoever," he said.

According to the statistics, 95% of staff at executive officer levels were given pay increases of between 2% and 3.9%. Over 70% of the lower-grade administrative officers won pay increases at the same level.

Background

Figures showing an increase in pay for most civil servants in Northern Ireland come at a sensitive time for the public finances. Departments have been presented with stringent plans for cutting their budgets over 2015/16. The Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has signalled that "pay restraint" is on the cards so figures for civil servant pay next year may present a different picture.

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