The finance chief said yesterday the government could save $7 billion a year if the pay of the 180,000-strong civil service was cut to 1997 levels. It was the first time a top official had publicly disclosed the amount of money that could be saved through another public service pay cut. However, Financial Secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung, speaking in Nanjing, stressed that a decision on any civil service pay cut would not involve any changes to the Basic Law. 'We respect the Basic Law, and we have no plans to make changes to the Basic Law,' he said. The mini-constitution stipulates that the civil service pay levels shall not be lower than those in force before the handover. Mr Leung's remarks imply that any cut would not be more than 0.3 per cent for senior officials and 6 per cent for middle and lower-ranking staff, the accumulated average pay rise of civil servants since the handover. Mr Leung said no decision had been made on a cut. But he said the Secretary for the Civil Service, Joseph Wong Wing-ping, would meet civil service unions later this week. Mr Wong wrote to all civil servants yesterday, urging them to take part actively in the government's cost-cutting exercise. 'Your support is indispensable for the success of our cost-saving measures. The fiscal deficit is by no means the civil service's making. Civil servants are not the cause of the problem but we can be part of the solution,' he said. Mr Wong said all staff would be fully consulted before a decision was made. Mr Leung refused to say if senior civil servants should receive a higher pay cut than the middle-ranking officials as Premier Zhu Rongji suggested on Monday. 'Nothing has been decided. Speculation of any form and the amount of the pay cut is not appropriate,' he said. Mr Leung said he was confident the budget deficit problem could be resolved by the 2006-2007 financial year. 'It is an issue everyone of us in society needs to shoulder,' he said. Civil servants' pay was cut by between 1.58 and 4.42 per cent on October 1.