The Cabinet Office is not the employer of all civil servants, and Departments are responsible for engaging with recognised trade unions at departmental and local level. The Public and Commercial Services Union is currently in dispute with a number of civil service employers and has called for strike action in several Departments. We remain open to continued dialogue to bring about a resolution.
Following a ballot of more than 150,000 civil servant PCS members, a massive 86.2% voted for strike action on pay, pensions, job cuts and redundancy terms. The strikes will start next week at the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency, National Highways and the Rural Payments Agency. Does the Minister accept that responsibility for this situation lies firmly with his Government for imposing an insulting pay deal of just under 3%—a substantial real-terms pay cut—amid a cost of living crisis?
As the hon. Lady said, 214 ballots took place and 124 hit the relevant thresholds for strike action. That is something I greatly regret, because it will impact the citizens of this country and how they go about their day-to-day work. We will do our utmost to mitigate that and protect the people from the impact of those strikes, but they should not be taking place and I very much regret that they are. I hope that the hon. Lady and this House will recognise that with inflation at 11%, providing an 11% increase across the public sector would equate to about £28 billion—just under £1,000 per household. So I really regret that the unions have felt it necessary to take this action. Our door remains open; we would like to speak to them. We would rather that this was not taking place, but we have to be realistic about the constraints on public expenditure at present.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. With workers in 124 Government departments and public bodies now having that mandate for strike action, a responsible Government would get around the table for meaningful talks with the civil service trade unions. Is that happening? Will the Minister explain how the Government intend to avoid the widespread disruption, and how they plan to bring forward a fair deal on pay, investment in jobs and an end to the attack on terms and conditions for civil service workers?
We will do our utmost to ensure that public services continue and that the public do not suffer as a result of these strikes, although inconvenience is inevitable when strike action of this nature takes place. I regret that it is taking place. I hope that the workers involved will not go on strike and will continue to work in the public interest. We really value the work and the services they do, but there has to be a recognition that the scale of demands being made on us is not affordable for the taxpayer at this time. That is sad, but it is a fact.