Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Battle lines drawn in regional pay row

A significant political head of steam is building up against the Government's proposals to introduce regional pay awards for public sector workers.

Previously, the main opposition came from the expected sources of teacher, civil servant and health unions, but two days ago the Deputy PM Nick Clegg intervened to say the proposals would exacerbate the north-south divide in England, a point which could equally be applied to the devolved regions including Northern Ireland. Now 60 MPs, including Lib Dem, DUP and SDLP members, have added their weight to the opposition.

The national pay review bodies are due to report back to ministers over the next few months, but it appears that regional pay could yet split the increasingly splintered coalition government at Westminster. From a London perspective the proposal may make economic sense but everywhere else it is creating a sense of unfairness and is seen as another tightening of the screws to bail the Government out of its economic problems.

In Northern Ireland, as this newspaper has repeatedly argued, the effect of reducing public sector pay would have a disproportionate effect on the economy given our high dependence on the sector. If there were accompanying viable and sustainable efforts to rebalance the public-private split and to encourage growth then the proposal might be more palatable in the longer term. Instead all we are offered by the Chancellor is vague promises on corporation tax cuts and enterprise areas, leaving a feeling that London is not overly interested in this region.

It should also be remembered that a large proportion of public sector workers in the province are not earning gilded salaries.

But the battle on regional pay will be won or lost at Westminster and the Chancellor must be concerned at the forces gathering against him.

It is encouraging to see the beginnings of a cross-party revolt on the issue.

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