by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo
Much is being said these days about the Public Sector and the Civil Service, particularly about my Government’s support for this central pillar of our civic and business communities.
As Minister with responsibility for the Civil Service and as Chairman of the Gibraltar Development Corporation, I have a clear view of the importance of providing my support, to our Civil and Public Servants.
As the record shows, I have always provided that respect, support and commitment to the Civil Service and the Public Sector as a whole. As I set out here, I am committed to continuing to provide it. I do not agree with the position of the GSD that the Civil Service “is bloated” (as per Jaime Netto) or that Civil Service pay “is not based on merit” (as per Roy Clinton).
Recently, during my Budget Speech, it was my pleasure to be able to announce once more that Gibraltar plc continues to fire on all cylinders, despite an uncertain regional/global panorama and Brexit looming large. Of course, that could change. I explained my view, however, and reiterate it here, that to maximise our potential, Gibraltar needs to deliver on its promise of being a great place to do business.
I further believe that to deliver a great environment in which to do business, for our Private Sector to continue to thrive, we need to continue to support and improve our public services. As I said in Parliament, “that means investing in our Public Sector and investing in our Public Servants in order to deliver the Public Services that our Community needs and deserves today.”
It is an inescapable truth that, in Gibraltar, the Private and Public Sectors are bound together in a symbiotic relationship that can be as virtuous as it can be vicious.
As the Private Sector strives to generate more, as it works to bring investment to Gibraltar in financial services, in gaming, tourism, distributed ledger technology and more, it is the Civil Service and Public Sector that enables Private Sector professionals to bring those investments to fruition.
I therefore have a very clear view of what investing and supporting our Civil Service means. These are the key areas for me:
• First of all, and essentially, voting in favour of the Budget. This is what ultimately allows the Government to pay Civil Servants and Public Sector workers, and to provide the tools they need to continue to deliver their service. I have voted for the Budget every year, even when I was in opposition and disagreed with some of the things the then Government was doing with our money. The GSD has now voted against the Budget, and against paying Civil Service and Public Sector salaries, for two years running.
• My commitment to the Civil Service and Public Sector could not be better illustrated than by reference to the pay increases I have delivered over the period I have had ministerial responsibility for it. Pay has risen just shy of 19% in that period between 2012 and 2018 (an average of about 2.7% per year). In the same period, inflation has been 12.7% (or an average of about 1.81%). That means that pay rises are over 6% above inflation, as promised in our last manifesto. These increases in Gibraltar are about 12 to 13% above pay increases in the UK in the same period. In some parts of our Civil and Public Service pay is now 30 to 40% above parity as a result. These numbers show that I have literally put our money where my mouth is. Any claims in respect of pay rises have to been seen in this context. In fact, it is obvious that I have delivered real and meaningful support to every Civil Servant and Public Sector worker in Gibraltar. I am not just talking the talk like others have done. I am walking the walk!
• Moving away from a Civil Service and Public Sector that is politically controlled, as it was by the former GSD government and former Chief Minister, and giving the public sector workers the space they need to do their work and discharge their duties.
• Ensuring that public sector workers enjoy a healthy work-life balance. In this respect, I was really happy to be able to deliver the new Civil Service and Public Sector working hours. This helps in particular those with young families such as my own. And I know how valuable extra time with the family is. This change of hours, was a long held objective of the GGCA that was delivered by my Government in a way which I think has been good not just for the Civil Service and Public Sector but also for the Private Sector.
• Making real and genuine efforts at modernising and improving the framework of rules within which our Civil Servants perform their duties. We have already drafted a new Civil Service and Public Sector Code as a replacement for the antiquated General Orders, a drafting process that has included close consultation with the GGCA, Unite and the GTA, and one which further underlines my desire for reforms to be an inclusive process.
• Listening to the views of the Unions and taking the initiative to end the practice of using Agency Workers in the Civil Service, as I announced in my May Day speech a couple of months ago. I am already consulting closely with the GGCA and Unite the Union on how we will do this in the most effective and non-discriminatory manner. I therefore expect the ‘AA’ recruitment process to start within weeks. The practice of using Agency staff, which was started by the GSD, but continued by us, is over. Civil Service vacancies will be filled permanently and any pending promotions also filled upon the completion of the Senior Public Sector review.
• Filling vacant promotion posts has, nonetheless, also been done to a great extent. Already there is a new Commissioner of Income Tax, a new Principal Housing Officer, a new Director of Education etc.
• Additionally, I remain committed to the manning level of the Civil Service as at 9th December 2011, although the level is now higher.
The decision to commit to a review of Senior Civil Service salaries and relativities has been taken in order to begin to deal with issues arising from distortion of relativities created by the previous administration. This is a matter many senior Civil Servants have raised with me. But I wish to stress that, as I alluded to in my Budget address, the review I have announced will not affect any existing officers’ pay or pension entitlements. The review is going to happen within weeks. Once it is over, we will be able to re-asses the cap on wage increases I have introduced this year.
It will be obvious from these key points that my commitment to our Civil and Public Servants is unwavering, tangible and real.
The reality of my Government’s support for the Civil Service is an inconvenient one for those in the GSD who want to stoke unrest for political gain.
But my commitment to workers extends also, of course to the engine of our economy, the private sector. There I will also strive to improve the plight of workers with increases to the minimum wage and the imminent introduction of occupational pensions for all and Trade Union recognition legislation.
As Chief Minister I, together with the whole of my team, recognise the value of the Civil Service in the wider success of this community, have acted upon that recognition and we are committed to continuing to support our Civil and Public Servants.
We are preparing to leave the European Union. This is not a time for industrial action. It is a time to be responsible and for concerted action between us. It is a time to ensure that Brexit does not affect our standard of living by working – as I have done with Joseph Garcia – to insulate Gibraltar from any potential negative effects from our departure from the EU. That’s why I look forward to continuing my work, together with the relevant unions and other stakeholders, on the modernisation of the Civil Service and Public Sector, to continue to deliver Public Services of which this Community can rightly continue to be proud for coming generations. I hope that will be one of my legacies for our common, prosperous future.