Labour’s call to end the pay freeze on public sector workers has been defeated in the Commons after a day of confusion over the Government’s position.
The 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs all voted with the Tories to block a move to give nurses, police officers and other public sector workers a pay rise about 1% - just days after it was agreed to pump an additional £1.5billion into Northern Ireland.
It seemed this morning the Government were considering abandoning the cap - first introduced by George Osborne in 2012 - but a Downing Street spokesperson confirmed this afternoon it would remain in place.
In the Commons this evening, Labour’s amendment was defeated by 14 votes, with 309 MPs backing it, and 323 voting against.
Speaking after the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Tonight, the Conservatives had an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is, by ending cuts to our police and fire service and lifting the public sector pay cap.
“Although government ministers said they had learned the lessons of the General Election and were listening to voters, it is clear that nothing has changed.
“They had the perfect opportunity to walk the walk, but instead they marched through the lobby to show Tory austerity is business as usual.
“While the money is there when the Conservatives need it to keep themselves in office, the rest of the country now face more devastating cuts to our emergency and other vital services.”
Speaking to HuffPost UK after the vote, Tory MP Heidi Allen - who would like to see the cap lifted - said she was unable to back Labour’s amendment as it was “too partisan”.
She also queried introducing a blanket pay rise for all public sector workers.
“Public services includes the very highest paid chief executives, managers, Whitehall chiefs too.
“I cannot support a blanket pay rise to all of those.
“We need to focus on those public sector workers such as nurses, healthcare assistants and all those on the front line.”
The amendment read:
″[MPs] respectfully regret that the Gracious Speech fails to end cuts to the police and the fire service; commend the response of the emergency services to the recent terrorist attacks and to the Grenfell Tower fire; call on the Government to recruit more police officers and fire-fighters; and further call on the Government to end the public sector pay cap and give the emergency and public services a fair pay rise.”
Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said after the vote: “This is a bitter disappointment for nurses and others in the public sector. At lunchtime, there were signs the Government was listening to our calls but by the evening they voted to keep the pay cap in place.
“Our members’ ‘summer of protest’ campaign continues.
“But we also know that a growing number on the Government’s own benches agree the cap should be scrapped.
“We will continue to build cross-party support this summer. If the Prime Minister intends to address pay in an autumn Budget, she should do so without delay.
“The pay cap stands in the way of filling the 40,000 vacant nurse posts in England. When NHS and care services are short of safe staffing, patients pay a heavy price.
“It is welcome that the Government has said it will listen to the Pay Review Body’s evidence but they must also act on it.
“The RCN will play its part in showing Ministers how they can address the real-terms loss of earnings – worth £3,000 a year - since 2010.”
Prime Minister Theresa May was quizzed over the pay cap during the election campaign, with a nurse on a BBC’s Question Time asking how it was fair that in real terms her wages had gone down since 2009.
May responded by saying there “there isn’t a magic money tree that we can shake that suddenly provides for everything that people want.”
After a speech in London on Wednesday, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon strongly hinted the Government was about to change its position on the cap.
After being asked whether it should stay in place for soldiers, Sir Michael said: “It is obviously something we have to consider not just for the army but right across the public sector as a whole.”
Another prominent Tory, former Cabinet Minister Sir Oliver Letwin, also suggested the time to review the policy was “getting close”.
Although No.10 said “the policy hasn’t changed” on the 1% cap, the spokesman stressed he was “commenting on the here and now” and would not speculate about the future.
An intense battle is now set to take place behind closed doors in Whitehall as ministers work out if and how they amend the cap.
This year’s independent NHS pay review warned it was “not sustainable” to expect staff to suffer real terms pay cuts. In 2014, it said the pay cap “cannot continue to be the main mechanism” for austerity.
Last year’s teachers’ pay review said it expected a pay rise “significantly higher than 1%”.
Labour set aside £4bn in its 2017 election manifesto to fund an end to the pay cap, but it is unclear how the Government would fund a similar pledge.