Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland MPs join the fight against regional pay plan

By Tom Moseley

Northern Ireland MPs have signed a Parliamentary petition claiming coalition plans to introduce regional public sector pay scales in the UK “will set hospital against hospital and school against school”.

More than 60 MPs have already signed the Early Day Motion which states the move would lead to “unfair discrimination” against nurses and teachers and take “substantial amounts” from the economies of devolved nations.

The signatories include seven Liberal Democrats — reflecting a major split in the coalition Government over the plans.

The SDLP and DUP have also added their names to the protest, demonstrating cross-party concern over the changes’ impact on Northern Ireland.

Unions say Northern Ireland would be one of the worst affected areas by a move towards locally-set pay, because private sector wages here lag behind the public sector. The province also has a high proportion of people employed in the public sector.

Treasury documents used to justify the switch show Northern Ireland’s public sector pay ‘premium’ — the additional pay above what the equivalent private sector worker earns — is well above the UK average of 8.3%.

Yesterday, 22 Lib Dems wrote a letter criticising any move towards regional pay. It came as Education Secretary Michael Gove called for each school to be able to set its own pay, a suggestion condemned by teaching unions. The National Union of Teachers said staff in poorer areas would be hit by a “double whammy” of spending cuts and lower pay.

Northern Ireland’s education policy is set at Stormont, but SDLP MP Mark Durkan said: “This is a policy coming from the Treasury. The terms and tone are set by what applies from Whitehall.” The Foyle MP called the policy “flaky”.

Despite the Lib Dem rebellion, ministers have pledged to press on with moves to what they insist will be ‘local’, rather than ‘regional’ pay rates.

Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, claimed there was evidence of damage to economies in some areas from inflated public sector pay.

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Plans to abandon national pay rates in the public sector were announced by Chancellor George Osborne in last year’s Autumn statement, and firmed up by the Budget.

The national pay review bodies, including those covering education and health, are currently examining the issue and will report back to ministers over the next few months.

The Government has said no decision will be taken until all reports have been received, which is likely to be at least October of this year.

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