Pay gap between public and private sectors will only close with better jobs
Pay in the public sector always arouses heated debate in Northern Ireland, especially when compared with the private sector here.
The latest statistics from Nisra show that pay in the Northern Ireland Civil Service is broadly similar to the rest of the UK, with the exception that we pay lower paid workers more and higher paid workers less.
Many analysts point to higher wages in the public sector as a drain on talent from the private sector or a constraint on Northern Ireland's competitiveness. Much of this comment is seriously misguided. There is an imbalance in the Northern Ireland economy, but it is persistently low pay in the private sector which should really trouble us.
Northern Ireland is a region of a much larger economy, the UK.
While pay rates for the public sector here are broadly similar to the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland has consistently underperformed in the private sector.
There is no reason why pay in Northern Ireland should be consistently lower than the UK as a whole, public or private.
The cost of living in Northern Ireland is not significantly below that of the rest of the UK, so why would it be appropriate to pay people less? There is a productivity gap between Northern Ireland and the UK, and nearly every economic strategy document produced in Northern Ireland over the last 20 years has talked about closing that gap.
Lowering public sector wages to equal those in the private sector would achieve the exact opposite.
We can only close that gap by creating higher skilled, higher valued and yes, higher paid jobs for Northern Ireland.