Executive Leader Cllr Kieran Quinn

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Councillor Kieran Quinn, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Goodbye, and Good Riddance, to the Public Sector Pay Cap?

Tuesday, 04 July 2017

Frequent readers of my blog will know that the cost of living and defending the principle of “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” in modern Britain are two issues that I take very seriously indeed. I’ve never claimed that solving them was going to be easy, but what if I told you that there’s one piece of the solution that could literally be made to happen tomorrow, and would have happened if not for the actions of the current government?

Since 2010 and the dawn of the age of the austerity various Conservative governments have imposed a cap of 1% on the annual increase of public sector pay. At a stroke, millions of workers up and down the country, not just civil servants but police officers, nurses and fire fighters as well, found their earning potential slashed at the whim of the Treasury. 

Fast forward seven years and the malignant effects of this cost-cutting have become apparent to pretty much everybody. The median public sector wage for almost 5 million people is now £1,000 lower in real terms than it was in 2010. By the end of this Parliament that cumulative loss of pay is expected to reach around £4,000. This means millions of public sector workers are faced with the choice of accepting a reduction in their own quality of life, or taking different or additional jobs to make up the shortfall. Many of these hard-working people are in some of the most dangerous and important jobs this country can offer, they deserve better than being forced to live hand-to-mouth like that.

There’s serious concern about the effects of the public sector pay gap from employers as well. When it was introduced, the argument was made that a cap in public sector pay was necessary because earnings for similar jobs in the private sector had plummeted during the Great Financial Crisis. Regardless of what you thought about that argument at the time, it’s demonstrably not true in 2017. Public and private sector earnings in real terms achieved parity last year, and that gap between the two sectors is now reversing at an increasing rate. If public sector workers can get better jobs with higher pay in the private sector, many are going to do exactly that. At best, that means a reliance on costly and inefficient agency labour to fill the gaps. At worst, that means degradation in the quality of our public services due to shortages in staff and skills. The police, the NHS and the teaching profession are already beginning to sound the alarm on exactly this.

With that kind of mounting evidence you’d think the government would be taking decisive action. You’d be disappointed. What was seen since the election is a toxic brew of shameless hypocrisy and utter confusion. You can’t claim there’s “no magic money tree” when you’re happy to spend at least a billion pounds to prop yourself up in Parliament.  You can’t claim you support lifting the public sector pay cap when you voted against an amendment in the Queen’s Speech that would have done just that. You absolutely can’t announce that the public sector pay cap will be lifted, only to go back on it less than 24 hours later. I’ve seen plenty of U-turns over the years, but a U-turn on a U-turn is a new one.

We need to bring some common sense back to public sector pay. We always have to take care that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely, but that has to be balanced with making sure that the public sector can retain the skills and staff necessary to deliver vital services, and, more importantly, that nobody on a public sector wage struggles to make ends meet. The age of austerity must be brought to an end. Not in a few years. Not in a few months. Right now.

Posted by: Executive Leader

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