Journal Column – 11th January 2012

I was honoured this week to open the first Westminster debate of 2012.  My chosen topic of debate – Regional Public Sector Pay – is one that will increasingly dominate relations between the UK Government and the public sector over the coming year.

Whilst some measures in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement are to be welcomed, such as the Capital Investment Programme based remarkably on Plaid Cymru’s Build4Wales proposal, in the same statement the Chancellor announced a wholesale review into the introduction of regional pay within the public sector.  A public sector worker in Carmarthenshire could potentially be paid significantly less than someone doing the same job on the other side of the river severn.

The UK Government’s argument in favour of this policy might include its supposed intention to equalise the standard of living for public sector workers throughout the UK.   The argument might go along the lines that a teacher working in Carlisle has more disposable income than a colleague working in Reading due to the differences in the cost of living – and that the UK Government sees this to be wholly unjustifiable.  

Superficially this seems an attractive argument, but it is essentially a policy aimed at a race at the bottom.   I hope the UK Government doesn’t embark on this sort of divide-and-rule strategy in playing public sector workers off each other as it has done recently in playing public and private sector workers against each other during the public sector pensions debate.

Many readers of my column will be aware that Wales already endures regional pay scales following the former Labour UK Government’s introduction of differential pay within our Courts service.  There are a number of reasons why such a policy is a bad idea.  But in principle, labour relations have been based around fair pay for a job of work.  It therefore seems morally questionable to me to pay an individual a different rate for doing exactly the same job just because they live in a different area.

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