Civil Service salary and package explanation

A few people asked me about the “Pay” section on a Civil Service Site Reliability Role and as Government ranges can be a bit odd I thought i might as well explain how they worked at the department I used to work in. I originally wrote most of this on Twitter but it’s come up often enough that I’d like to keep it somewhere more permanent. I’m not a recruiter but I’ve been a hiring manager and this post is based on my experience and understanding. It may be incorrect or outdated as it’s a very complicated area and it varies by Department. If in doubt speak to your HR Business Partner.

Here’s an example salary section from a SRE job spec:

Up to £80,000(London)/£70,400(National) based on capability
The base salary of this grade is £54,700(London)/£49,700(National).
Offers above this will be made up with a specialist pay allowance.

If you’re used to jobs in the private sector this is probably already more in-depth and domain specific than you’re used to. It’s not as easy to understand as a simple “70-80K” but it’s also not really much more complicated than when stock options and vesting enter the picture. It’s just a different set of domain oddities. And it’s much better than “Competitive based on experience”.

I’m going to skip right over the formatting, as most Government recruitment systems are horrific, and making things look decent is a nightmare. As an example from one system I’ve used, the text in the role is editable by internal staff but changing anything in the Department bit at the top is a change request and some TAX payer money. So changes get batched up and delayed with a long lead time. I also won’t be talking about the huge can of worms that is “Why are you paying me based on my postcode?”. I will mention that, in the UK, there are a number of efforts underway to distribute roles in the Civil Service across the country. This is being helped along by reducing the number of roles, and making the hiring process stricter, in London. If you’re joining the Service ensure you ask about the departments “Location Strategy” or you could find yourself as a Mid/Senior in a given location with no prospect of promotion as the department is no longer creating roles there.

On to some job description specifics, this is all based on my experience hiring SREs in my previous Department. We’ll assume you’re interested in a Devops Engineer role (which SRE roles internally map to) in London. Once all the interviews are successfully passed you’ll be offered the base for your region. In this case London, so you get 54,700 as per the job spec. Your pension is based on this number so it’s an one to remember.

Each of your interview question answers will then be scored against the role and level relevant DDaT skills from DDaT Devops Engineer. This scoring normally happens via a huge pile of spreadsheet mapping.

Based on your scores you’ll be rated as one of multiple levels, the number and names of which vary by department. At $job - 1 there were five levels from Developing to Accomplished. Based on this level an additional amount of “specialist pay allowance” will be added to your offer to raise your salary to be more market compatible based on the capabilities you presented in your answers. This allowance part of the salary is not pensionable. In the advert we’re borrowing the numbers from the allowance can be up to 25,300 so it can make a huge difference - but not to your pension. Internally we also do a periodic assessment against the same criteria to help justify why pay rises are deserved as people progress. It’s also worth flagging that capability allowances can go up as well as down so most mortgage providers will not consider it when you apply for one.

Back to your interview results. If you barely pass the interview you’d be offered base plus the “Developing” level of the allowance, only the base part of which is pensionable. If you aced everything you’d get offered base + accomplished and the top of the amount we advertise. But again, only the base is pensionable.

On a more positive note UK Government jobs nearly always have numbers on them. There’s a system behind the what and why people get offered so there’s no point hiding the amounts. There’s also another thing called SFIA, “The global skills and competency framework for a digital world”, but I know nothing about that.

In the Olden Days of about three years ago, and still present in some departments, there’s something called a “Recruitment and Retention Allowance”. This is something used to raise salary offers for difficult to hire roles. In essence it’s cheaper to throw some more money at the candidate than continue to run campaigns that have very limited chances of success. Some RRAs are pensionable, some are not. All are in theory able to expire. RRAs predate the capability based pay frameworks that seem to be becoming more common but there’s nothing I’ve seen that prevent them being used together. And then the cycle can begin once more.

There are a few more edge cases to be aware of, as their always are when dealing with Government. A pay rise to match inflation would be added to your base, which is pensionable, but the capacity allowance would be reduced so you’d still have the same total on paper. But with a small difference as the pensionable amount changed. I’ve also been told when some Departments using the capability frameworks had their band base increase the allowances decreased so the amount was also still the same. In general you don’t want a lot of staff with small salaries and large allowances as it makes everything less predictable and provides people with less certainty. Ideally you’d do this by requiring allowances to be no more than % percentage of base but I’m sure there are consequences to doing something like this.

In closing, and with my cynical hat on, an allowance can be taken away, it can be increased or decreased and I personally would never consider it as a promise. The nice thing about a capability framework vs an RRA is that any change would impact everyone on it, rather than just an individuals RRA. Any negative change would meet wider resistance and possibly Union intervention if significant enough. But it’s not guaranteed so be careful how you treat it when comparing roles.