Myths about the Civil Service.

Myth: civil servants all receive huge final salary pensions

The truth

The average annual pension paid to a retired Civil Servant last year was £7,000.

Check evidence:Cabinet Superannuation Resource Accounts 2009-10 [PDF]

Anyone joining the Civil Service since July 2007 has not been entitled to a final salary pension. Instead, they receive a pension based on how much they earned throughout their entire career.

Check evidence:Civil servants pension reform [PDF]

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Myth: civil servants earn far more than people in the private sector

The truth

 The average annual salary in the Civil Service is £23,680. This is based on full-time civil servants as at 31 March 2010.

Check evidence: Office for National Statistics – Civil Service statistics 31 March 2010

This salary is £1,015 less than the national average for the private sector, which was £24,695 in April 2010.

  1. National average based on median annual earnings for full-time employees, year ending 5 April 20010, ASHE 2010
  2. Public sector average based on weekly median gross weekly earnings for public sector full-time employees

Check evidence: Office for National Statistics – 2010 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings

Around 61 per cent of civil servants earn less than £25,000 a year:

Percentage full time staff in salary bands

Hay research has shown that the gap between Civil Service and private sector salaries gets wider the further up the organisation you go. On average, directors general earn 50% less than their equivalents in the private sector.

In the Senior Civil Service – the top 1% of our organisation – salary bands are set by the independent Senior Salaries Review Body.


Myth: senior civil servants are given huge bonuses as a matter of course.

The truth

Senior civil servants (SCS) don’t receive annual ‘bonuses’. Around 10% of their basic pay is performance-related.

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If they don’t meet tough, delivery-based targets, they don’t get paid their full salary. It’s less of a bonus for doing well and more of a pay cut if they do badly.

Most SCS members who did meet their targets last year were paid less than £10,000 in performance-related pay for doing so.

In February, Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell announced that permanent secretaries – the most senior civil servants who run departments – would waive any performance-related pay that they were due to get in 2009.

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Daily Telegraph news report: Top Mandarins waive bonuses

Myth: the number of civil servants keeps on rising

The truth

The number of civil servants has been on a downward trend since the 1970s.

Image 2 - Employment Graph

There are far fewer civil servants than there were in the 1970s, 1980s and the 1990s.

There are currently about 470,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) civil servants (the lowest ever post-war level) – less than 10% of the total FTE workforce in the public sector.

FTE is a measure that counts staff according to the proportion of full-time hours that they work.

Check evidence: National Office for Statistics – Public sector employment 16 March 2011

Myth: civil servants are a bunch of white, male Whitehall bureaucrats

The truth

Only around 17% of civil servants work in London, with the rest spread around the country.

Check evidence: Office for National Statistics – Civil Service statistics 31 March 2010

The Lyons Review has led to even more civil servants being moved out of the South-East – by December 2008 around 19,000 posts had been relocated. In the 2009 Budget the Government announced plans to move a further 5,000 posts by the end of 2010.

Check evidence:Lyons Review

Most civil servants work in operational delivery, providing services to people on the frontline. They might work to: 

The number of Civil Servants from a minority ethnic background is around 9.2%, compared to 5.8% in 2000.

Check evidence: Office of National Statistics – Civil Service statistics 31 March 2010

More than half of all civil servants are women. And in the most senior posts in the Civil Service, director and above, 28.8% of civil servants are women. This compares to just 12.5% in top management posts in FTSE 100 companies (according to The Female FTSE Board Report 2010, Cranfield School of Management). On current trends, women will be in the majority in the SCS by 2020.

Check evidence: National Office for Statistics – Public sector employment 16 March 2011

Check evidence:Diversity monitoring – Senior Civil Service targets

Myth: civil servants all get MBEs when they retire

The truth

Only a tiny fraction of civil servants ever receive an honour of any kind. People – both inside and outside the Civil Service – no longer receive honours ’just for doing their job’. They must satisfy an independent committee that they have gone above  and beyond and contributed to wider society.   

Check evidence:Directgov – The honours process explained

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Directgov: Honours, awards and medals

Daily Telegraph news report: The Honours system is the best way to salute local heroes

Myth: the Civil Service has become too politicised and is no longer independent

The truth

Impartiality has been a core value of the Civil Service for more than 100 years.

The importance of impartiality to today’s Civil Service is set out very clearly in the Civil Service Code, which forms part of every civil servant’s terms and conditions of employment.

Check evidence:Civil Service Code

There is also currently a Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill before Parliament. The bill will turn the Civil Service Code and the role of the Civil Service Commissioners into law, to guarantee they remain free from political influence. (Civil Service Commissioners are an independent group of 15 people recruited from outside the Civil Service. They oversee the way the organisation works and make sure the Code is upheld and that recruitment is fair.)

Check evidence:Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill

MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee recently confirmed that the ‘probity, honesty and integrity of Government officials’ is a key virtue of the Civil Service.

Check evidence:Public Administration Select Committee – Good Government report

Myth: most civil servants are not up to the job

The truth

MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee praised the quality of the advice given by civil servants. They called it a ’testament to the strong analytical capabilities of British Government officials’.

Check evidence:Public Administration Select Committee – Good Government report

The Capability Review programme is ensuring departments have the skills and abilities they need to deliver world-class public services. The reviews highlight issues that need to be addressed in the Civil Service and monitor and encourage progress. When the reviews were introduced in 2005 they were described as ‘rigorous to the point of self-flagellation’.

Check evidence:Public Administration Select Committee – The Capability Reviews

Increasing numbers of top civil servants join from outside the organisation, with skills and expertise from the private and third sectors. Around a third of current Senior Civil Servants had not been in the Civil Service before to taking their jobs.

Applications to the Civil Service graduate recruitment scheme, the Fast Stream, are up 36% compared to the same time last year. This means even more of Britain’s brightest graduates are joining the Civil Service and raising overall standards.

Independent polling by Ipsos MORI shows that public trust in the Civil Service has steadily increased since the early 1980s and is now well above average.

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