Lincolnshire Talks: Should the government end the public sector pay cap?

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Since the surprising general election result this time last month, Theresa May and her government have been attempting to navigate one crisis after another. The tragedy at Grenfell Tower and the rather sluggish and aloof response from the prime minister was widely criticised. Similarly, the deal with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland and the £1 billion handed to them was ridiculed as the government raiding the so-called “magic money tree”.

The latest obstacle to hurdle now appears to be the public sector pay cap, with unions, Labour MPs and even some Conservatives calling for it to be scrapped.

David Cameron’s coalition government introduced the controversial 1% pay cap four years ago in 2013, following a two-year pay freeze on all public sector workers.

The theory behind the cap was to bring public sector pay into line with equivalent jobs in the private sector.

However, with pay for firefighters, teachers and police officers now having been squeezed for over half a decade, many in the profession have simply had enough.

A Labour amendment to the 2017 Queen’s Speech proposing the removal of the cap was narrowly defeated in Parliament, despite many Conservative MPs speaking of supporting the principle of improving public sector workers’ pay.

The cabinet also appears to be divided over the issue, with Boris Johnson and Michael Gove key supporters of ending the cap, while Chancellor Philip Hammond urging his colleagues to “hold their nerve”.

Some have even suggested that the cap is “dead in the water”.

The Fire Brigades Union has received an offer of a 2% increase for its workers, but has said that it is still “simply not good enough”.

‘We’re talking about heroes of the nation’

Tracey Harrison, branch treasurer at Lincolnshire UNISON, said: “We’re talking about giving firefighters who three weeks ago were heroes of the nation a pay rise.

“It just doesn’t seem right to cap their pay increases and public sector workers generally are well behind a lot of other sectors in terms of pay.”

Lincolnshire NUT Divisional Secretary Ken Rustidge also agreed that public sector workers deserve a pay rise.

He said: “Teachers, nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters, armed forces personnel and local government officers all need a pay increase following the pay freeze and the subsequent minimal 1% increases which in real terms amount to a significant pay cut since 2010.

“There is a teacher recruitment and retention crisis in Lincolnshire and throughout the country.

“Comparative poor pay in relation to many other graduate professions, as well as the deep concerns over workload, exacerbate this situation.

“Per pupil funding must be increased for Lincolnshire schools as soon as possible.

“Lincolnshire is one of the lowest funded areas in the country and this needs to be made fairer.

“The government said in the election there was no magic money tree, then suddenly found £1 billion to buy the electoral support of the DUP!

“There needs to be a redistribution of funds and and much more money raised for example by a crackdown on the millions lost to the exchequer in tax evasion and avoidance often by the very richest in society.”

Matt Warman. Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Reporter

Conservative MPs in Lincolnshire also appear to be in agreement that the cap should be relaxed.

Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman said that he hoped the government would respond “favourably” by the time of the Budget.

He said: “I greatly value the important work that nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters and other public servants do in delivering essential public services.

“Public sector pay is set by independent pay review bodies, but I would hope that the government will respond favourably to easing pay restrictions at the time of the Budget, and that we will see sensible progress soon.

“More generally, it is important to strike the right balance between being fair to our public servants and managing our nation’s debt.

“I know that ministers will continue to assess that balance.”

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