THE BLOG

Against Regional Pay

04/09/2012 11:29 BST | Updated 04/11/2012 10:12 GMT

This Tory-led coalition government, despite promising that austerity was the way out of recession and into growth, has failed to ease the UK's financial woes, yet they persist in their brutal and relentless assault on our public services.

It is estimated that 700,000 jobs are being cut from our public services. Local Government workers have had their pay frozen for three years and staff in the NHS for two. Yet, disproportionately, the Government remain preoccupied with the issue of regional public sector pay. Recent research from the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange maintains that removing the 'pay premium' they claim exists for public sector workers - and one of the government's central arguments for regional pay scaling - will save billions to be reinvested into our public services.

In truth, the plans are simply a cost cutting exercise that would exacerbate the North-South divide, take vital demand out of local economies and lead to skills shortages in areas where pay is set lower.

Robust, independent research from Incomes Data Services - the country's foremost labour market analysts - has shown the government's theory that public sector pay scales 'crowd out' employment and investment by the private sector to be deeply flawed with no basis in fact.

The IDS report found that - contrary to the argument that public sector employment strangles private sector investment - private sector job creation and job losses appear to be completely unaffected by public sector pay. Beyond this crucial fact, it found public sector employment supports local populations, complimenting the presence of private employees. After all, in the main, the private and public sectors are not competing for the same workers.

We're already beginning to see the negative impact of regional pay scales taking hold against the wishes of workers, against the advice of unions and contrary to robust, independent evidence. In the South West, a consortium of 20 NHS hospital trusts is attempting to introduce local pay terms and conditions contrary to the hard-won and long-negotiated Agenda for Change agreement. These trusts are putting national negotiations in peril, and the livelihoods of valuable public sector workers at risk and crucially they risk undermining the quality of patient care in the region.

Their determination makes little sense when the IDS report demonstrates that private sector pay - with the exception of London and the South East, where weighting already exists, - does not vary hugely between regions, so where is the argument to encourage such variation for public sector workers?

The government claim that national pay in the public sector drives standards down, and scrapping it will improve hospital care and education. But contrary to the Tory line that regional pay will allow public sector workers in more expensive areas to earn more, what will actually happen is that workers will vote with their feet and move to where the pay is better. This will result in ghettoising services in regions with lower pay, and reducing the quality of public services in the poorest areas - often where they are needed most.

National pay is about job security, wherever a worker lives in the country; it stabilise workforces, keeping skills and training in place where they are needed, and prevents workers from having to become nomadic in pursuit of fair, living wages. It also cuts the time and effort needed for local pay bargaining to work.

Moving to regional pay scales has nothing to do with fairness, and everything to do with ideology. Austerity isn't working; the government's attacks on our public sector have done nothing to improve our financial lot, yet they go on nevertheless.

It's time for them to concentrate on programmes of investment and job creation, not just in London and the South East, that will put money in people's pockets and generate real growth in our struggling economy.

Dave Prentis is General Secretary of UNISON