Most Favoured Nation: Pay Trade Officials More Money
The TRA, Northern Ireland and US EV subsidies
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Borderlex has published an interview (£) with the UK Trade Remedies Authority’s chief executive, Oliver Griffiths. Usually these sort of interviews are pretty dull … but as regular readers of MFN will know, the UK’s Trade Remedies Authority is anything but dull. How many arms-length bodies can claim to have brought down a Prime Minister? [I joke, I joke …]
Anyway, you should read the whole interview (and subscribe to Borderlex, who are doing the Lord’s work), but this bit about the trouble they have recruiting and retaining staff really stood out for me:
You lost 22% of your staff during 2021. Your chair Simon Walker said in July that the authority would be “making a pay case to the government this summer” to offer staff more realistic salaries. How is that going?
We have put a pay case in to government. That is now with the cabinet office and treasury – the departments which decide on these things. My hope is that we will hear back this calendar year.
What we have been trying to do is to ask the question: ‘How do we value the expertise that we are building up within the organisation?’
You have an individual who builds up technical expertise – it typically takes about two years for people to be up to speed on trade remedies. And yet we have no way to reward individuals for that expertise. So they are either going to need to look for promotion internally, or else they move out.
And for this really specialist job, that doesn’t seem like a great model.
The typical turnaround time for someone in the public sector is probably about three years. If we are saying that we need two years for someone to become an expert here, then we are getting one year in which they are really able to contribute with their full expertise. So our pay case is looking to reward people as they become more expert.
At 22%, our staff turnover is too high. Recruitment can be pretty hard work. Only two-thirds of our recruitment campaigns produce appointable candidates at the pay that we’re offering. So if you have a large attrition rate, you are putting a lot of pressure on the broader organisation.
The thing that gives me optimism is that our staff surveys do not suggest that people don’t like working here. I’d be really worried if that was 22% and rising – but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
But some key skills, particularly digital skills, and in auditing and finance, we’re finding it very difficult to recruit for those roles at the moment.
What single thing would most help you and the Authority to move forward with more confidence?
Being able to pay people more.
Pretty blunt. But undoubtably right and applies not just to the TRA, but also other bits of government. I remember when the TRA first launched and it was putting out adverts along the lines of: “You must be one of the greatest trade lawyers in the world, fought many battles and won, be respected worldwide … £12 p/h and you’ve got to move to Reading.”
So yeah, to any government ministers reading: let the TRA pay people more money … and while you’re at it do the same for all trade officials.
Six sides to every story
Those of you who frequent twitter might have noticed that I accidentally re-started the UK-EU Northern Protocol negotiations. I jest, but the mood music does certainly seem to have improved, which is good.
And on the subject of Northern Ireland, this week I published a paper for the Centre for Cross Border Studies, looking at the impact the Protocol has had on goods traded in and out of Northern Ireland … and what could be done to improve conditions on the ground.
My premise is that the Protocol creates six distinct frameworks for traders to navigate and different rules apply to:
Imports into Northern Ireland from Great Britain
Exports from Northern Ireland to Great Britain
Imports into Northern Ireland from the EU
Exports from Northern Ireland to the EU
Imports into Northern Ireland from the rest of the world
Exports from Northern Ireland to the rest of the world
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