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Prison Officers: Pay

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN 154968, tabled on 19 February 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the decision to reject the Prison Service Pay Review Body’s recommendation 3.

Answered on

24 February 2021

The 20/21 PSPRB report was received on 5 June 2020 and included a recommendation, recommendation 3, to uplift the pay of Band 3 prison staff on modernised terms and conditions by £3,000. This recommendation was ultimately not accepted by the government, on the basis of the exceptional costs associated with implementing the recommendation, the impact on the overall prison service pay structure, and the changing labour market conditions due to the exceptional economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision regarding this recommendation was announced on 10 December 2020 (https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2020-12-10/hcws638).

Ahead of the decision regarding this recommendation, extensive work was undertaken by the Ministry of Justice together with HM Treasury to understand the costs and impacts of it. This included considering whether any workforce reforms could be delivered alongside the recommendation which would create efficiencies and savings, and therefore deliver value for money by offsetting some of the cost of the recommendation. This was undertaken with a view to possible discussions with recognised trade unions, should an option for affordable delivery of the recommendation, which could offer value for money for taxpayers be identified. The conclusion was that sufficient savings required to offer value for money could not be achieved, meaning the recommendation remained unaffordable.

The Ministry of Justice also considered the possible impacts on recruitment, retention and morale, which in turn have an effect on prison safety and security. However, recruitment, retention and staff morale levels are all driven by a range of factors and an increase in pay alone cannot be assumed to be a fix for these issues. Furthermore, there are significant investments being made into prison safety and security, and financial pressures from elsewhere impact our ability to deliver these.

An Equalities Impact Assessment was conducted and considered in reaching the decision to reject recommendation 3. This considered the demographics of staff and how the decision to reject the recommendation would interact with eliminating unlawful discrimination and advancing quality of opportunity.

The Secretary of State’s policy is that PSPRB recommendations will only be departed from “in exceptional circumstances, one of which would be on the grounds of affordability”. Furthermore, all appropriate advice was taken by the Secretary of State for Justice as to the relevant facts and tests relevant to the decision on recommendation 3.

The decision of 10 December 2020 to ultimately reject recommendation 3 was taken by the Secretary of State. It was not subject to the Cabinet committee write round procedure but was, as is consistent with usual practice with respect to public sector pay awards, preceded by HM Treasury input.

The Department remains committed to working with the review body, within the boundaries of the pay restraint policy as set out by the Chancellor for the 2021/22 pay round, which includes targeted awards for those earning less than £24k per annum. We will also continue to work closely with recognised trade unions.

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