Civil service HR professionals earn less than private sector counterparts

Experts call for ‘serious discussion’ about pay as Cabinet Office data shows median salary falls short of industry average

HR specialists in the civil service are paid far short of what they could earn in the private sector, and less than many of their colleagues in other civil service professions, government data has shown – a revelation experts have called “disappointing” given the importance of workforce issues in the public sector.

For the first time, the government has released data showing the comparative salaries of different professions within the civil service, revealing that the median salary for an HR specialist is £32,070, ranking 21st out of 29 functions.

The new figures, released by the Cabinet Office as part of the 2019 civil service statistics, show that the median salary for a civil service HR professional falls far short of the UK median salary for the field, which stands at £47,919, according to Croner Reward’s 2018 annual HR Salary Survey.

Other civil service areas such as finance, communications, commercial, policy and social research all pay more, with planning inspectors having the highest median salary of the professions listed, at £56,350.

However, the median salary for those working in HR is higher than those in professions such as counter fraud, tax, and knowledge and information management.

The 7,320 civil servants working in HR are paid significantly more than the civil service average of £27,080. The operational delivery profession, which pays an average salary of £24,480, is the poorest paid.

The statistics are drawn from data from the annual civil service employment survey of 445,480 civil servants as at 31 March 2019. They do not include the Northern Ireland civil service, other Crown servants and people working in the wider public sector, such as non-departmental public bodies and the NHS.

As with any profession, the salary can rise significantly at senior levels and Rupert McNeil, chief people officer at the civil service, is on a salary of at least £180,000.

Responding to the new figure for civil service HR pay, Karen Grave, president of the Public Services People Managers Association, told People Management: “Given how often we and senior leaders across public services emphasise how critical workforce issues are, it’s a disappointing observation that the very professionals whose role it is to ensure that our workforces are developed, nurtured and enabled to consistently deliver high-quality public services are 21st on the list.

“This cannot be right. Building resilient, healthy, high-performing workforces should be seen as a strategic priority for all politicians, public servants and services users.”

Grave said a “serious discussion” was needed “about how our profession is valued by our organisations” and that the HR profession needed to be “absolutely clear on the value we can and should bring as well”.

However, Mark Stuart, Montague Burton professor of human resource management and employment relations at Leeds University Business School, noted that HR roles in the civil service were likely to be highly diverse, which would influence the median salary. “Compared to the median salary for HR officer-type roles in the rest of the economy, which you can find through various salary comparator sites, the civil service median salary could appear quite attractive,” he said.

“But it is clear that HR professionals still lag behind many other professions, such as finance, internal audit, operations, planning, communications and commercial, and are way behind the legal profession.”