20 June 2012

Both Labour and Libdems in Cornwall are opposing the Tory Libdem government’s proposals for localised public sector pay, that is public sector pay that takes into account pay in the private sector which outside the southeast of England appears to be generally lower for comparative work. In effect the proposals are not about supplementing national public sector pay levels but cutting that pay to the levels of private sector pay in each locality. Localising pay will mean cutting pay for most workers affected.

They are not exactly proposals but nor are they a vague idea. Some preparatory work is undertaking (see Note at the foot of the post for examples). However, Alastair Hatchett has challenged convincingly some of the myths about regional pay and how private sector pay is arrived at.

The Libdems in Cornwall are opposed to cornishing pay. I welcome that but although Nick Clegg opposes localised pay, Danny Alexander, the Libdem chief secretary of the Treasury, apparently approves it: see here for Clegg and here for Alexander. The three Libdem MPs for Cornwall constituencies were among the Libdem signatories to a letter opposing localised pay published in the Guardian 16 May 2012. Way back in the days when the mandatory minimum wage was originating the Libdem party advocated a regionalised one; that would have institutionalised low pay for workers in Cornwall.

Labour in Cornwall is opposed to cornishing pay. I welcome that but the Labour government began the process of localising pay and apparently even pondered localising the minimum wage.

All right, let us lethe the unprogressive past.

The Libdems apparently have a motion for Cornwall unitary council opposing cornished pay and advocating fair pay. All parties love the word fair, so redolent of righteousness and justice yet so comfortably vague and airy and elastic in meaning. I oppose localised pay and very much welcome the Libdem move but let me say bluntly that more is needed than that opposition: let me point out that the living wage for Cornwall is £7.20 an hour and I have argued before that Cornwall Council, even in these days of austerity, should give a lead and move to the living wage. Perhaps the Libdem party could put some solidity into fairness by pressing Cornwall Council to adopt the living wage; if not, perhaps Labour could propose an amendment for the living wage. Let fairness means something solid, a living wage.


*Preparatory work: for example, these very recent replies to questions about plans to introduce regional pay
(a) by the Foreign Office minister (Hansard 19 June 2012 column 911W)
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) exits the pay freeze in 2013 and will at that point look to move to more local, market facing pay. We are awaiting further data and guidance from Efficiency and Reform Group in Cabinet Office that will allow my officials to look at how the FCO’s pay structures compare with local market data. Once this is published we will work with Cabinet Office and Her Majesty’s Treasury colleagues to produce a three year pay strategy.”

(b) by the lord chancellor (Hansard 19 June 2012, column 918W)
“Pay for some staff in HM Courts and Tribunal Service is already based on regional market rates.
Plans to move to more local market influced pay structures are being considered as part of proposals for pay reform within the Ministry and its Executive Agencies. The first stages of implementation are scheduled for summer 2013 as the Department exits the pay freeze.”

*The parliamentary record for Labour’s initiation of regional pay is here, Hansard 19 June 2007 column 1708W:
“Mr Illsley: To ask the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice if she will make a statement on the introduction of regional pay rates for court staff.
Ms Harman: Regional pay is a reality in the economy as a whole-pay variations by location are not new. The system we are introducing offers greater coherence, greater transparency and enables us to target public money most effectively on those areas where there is greatest need. It will allow us to offer competitive salaries to attract and retain staff with the skills we need, where we need them.”