Who wouldn’t want a nurse or a firefighter to be paid more? No one imposes a pay cap on public sector workers out of some malign intent. I have been a firm supporter of all the efforts that the Government has made over seven years to get our economy back on track. Britain’s debt is a potential nightmare for the millennial generation. If my generation hasn’t fixed this problem by the time the millennials are entering their 30s and 40s they will face circumstances we have seen elsewhere in Europe where governments are forced to cut health, education and welfare spending. In the last seven years all these budgets have risen – despite so-called austerity.
I know that statistics turn people off but they do matter. Our national debt is just shy of 90% of our GDP (what we as a country earn every year). That is high but manageable. If it continues to rise much above 100% we enter dangerous territory. Each year we spend roughly what we spend on defence just to pay interest on that debt. All our efforts to tackle this debt have been opposed by those who claim to speak for the next generation. In fact they are potentially dumping a huge burden of misery.
The Office of Budget Responsibility and other reputable independent bodies have confirmed that pay restraint has protected around 200,000 jobs in the public sector. That means jobs saved in hospitals, schools and police stations in and around West Berkshire.
Despite all this, I do think there is some wriggle room that should see an easing of the pay cap. A modest rise in inflation has seen incomes reduce. I think it is time to show people who work in these services that we recognise what they do and the sacrifices they have made by easing the cap on wage increases. Finding more money is done by changing spending priorities, cutting expenditure or raising taxes. There is a healthy debate going on in Government and on the back benches about where new money should come from.
This brings me to the amendment to the Queen’s Speech which called for an end to pay restraint. This was a political attempt to remove the Government’s ability to govern by voting against the Queen’s Speech. The loss of such a vote would have been seismic in Parliamentary terms and could have made it impossible for the Government to continue. In itself it would not have changed one public servant’s pay rate. Voting against such party political shenanigans in no way means I am against a fair pay deal for public sector workers. Quite the opposite and I will continue to make the case for an easing of pay restraint in a constructive manner in Parliament.