Liz Truss’ plan to end national pay deals for civil servants would result in a “massive pay cut” for nurses, police officers and soldiers, the Conservative mayor of Tees Valley has warned.
The frontrunner in the Tory leadership campaign has said she would save £11bn by waging “war on Whitehall waste”.
Her campaign said £8.8bn in savings would come by paying workers living in cheaper areas of the country less than counterparts in places like London and the south east where the cost of living is higher.
But the move has triggered another round of internal Tory fighting, as party members begin voting in the leadership contest.
Ben Houchen, an influential rising star in the party who is supporting Rishi Sunak, said on Tuesday the proposal had left him “actually speechless”.
“There is simply no way you can do this without a massive pay cut for 5.5m people including nurses, police officers and our armed forces outside London,” he said.
“This is a ticking time bomb set by team Truss that will explode ahead of the next general election.”
Houchen was easily re-elected last year and has previously warned that red wall seats will switch back to Labour if the government abandons its levelling-up agenda.
The 35-year-old’s popularity in the region was widely credited with helping the Conservatives snatch Hartlepool from Labour in the by-election in 2021.
Heywood & Middleton MP Chris Clarkson, another Sunak supporter, said the policy would not survive contact wi
Tory MP Simon Hoare, who is also backing Sunak, told PoliticsHome of the plan: “It’s the absolute antithesis of One Nation Conservatism, politically suicidal and economically illiterate.”
Sunak’s campaign said Truss’ plan would see millions of public sector workers get hit with a pay cut of £1,500 a year.
Alex Thomas, from the Institute for Government think-tank, said it was “impossible” to to save £8.8bn from civil service wages alone.
“The entire civil service wage bill is £9bn. Truss’s plans must refer to the wider public sector,” he tweeted.
“So this isn’t mandarins moving from London, it’s nurse, teacher pay being adjusted down. Less War on Whitehall more War on Workington?”
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said Truss’ proposal showed levelling-up was “dead”.
“Liz Truss is declaring war on herself with her fantasy recipe for levelling down,” she said.
“This wannabe prime minister is stuck in the past, fighting old battles, and promising a race to the bottom on public sector workers’ pay and rights.
“Her ‘tailored’ pay plans would level down the pay of Northerners, worsening the divide which already exists.”
Dave Penman, head of the FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, accused Truss of recycling “failed policies and tired rhetoric from the 1980s”.
He described her plan as out of the “P&O Ferries playbook” which would lead to cuts to “pay, terms and conditions”.
Truss’ campaign has been approached for comment.