Senior officials await 'draft' contracts

WITHIN the next few days, Britain's top 3,500 civil servants will receive draft personal contracts as part of the Government's drive to inject private-sector discipline into Whitehall, writes Barrie Clement.

The document, leaked to the Independent, is meant to be a 'model' for the final versions which will tie officials to a more business-like relationship with their employers. One of the key elements is Clause 17, which some civil service unions fear could undermine their members' political independence.

The memorandum says: 'As a civil servant you are a servant of the Crown and you owe a duty of loyal service to the Crown as your employer. Since constitutionally the Crown acts on the advice of ministers who are answerable for their departments and agencies in Parliament, that duty is for all practical purposes owed to the Government of the day.' Although the document refers to other official advice to civil servants about their wider responsibilities, senior union leaders are concerned that the model contract might serve to make government employees beholden to a specific government.

One senior union official said: 'Under the intended system there is no incentive for a senior civil servant to put his or her job and salary on the line by providing ministers with objective and possibly unwelcome advice.'

As part of sweeping reforms in Whitehall, more elite civil servants will be taken out of the ambit of collective bargaining. Union leaders point out that grade five officials, or the old assistant secretary grade, will for the first time have their salaries decided by the Top Salaries Review Board, where unions have an input, but no negotiating rights. The 'model' contract makes it clear that under the new performance-related pay systems, salaries will be 'at the discretion' of the head of a department.

The NUCPS union, which covers some senior civil servants, and the IPMS, the scientists and specialists' union, are concerned about the erosion of collective bargaining and how far the new procedures may eventually be applied lower down the scale. While the First Division Association, the union for top officials, is concerned, so far it has adopted a more pragamtic attitude.

As part of the new system, civil servants immediately below the top grade of permanent secretary will be on maximumm salaries of pounds 88,000 and pounds 80,000 - currently pounds 75,328 and pounds 60,990 respectviely.