Belfast Telegraph

Regionalisation won't apply to MPs? Well, what a surprise

A particularly brave turkey raised the prospect of Christmas in the Palace of Westminster last week.

If, asked Labour's Susan Elan Jones, public sector pay is to be set locally according to an area's economic health, should this not also apply to MPs?

After all, an average salary of £65,738 puts elected members ahead of most in the private sector in many parts of the country.

These are areas - with Northern Ireland at the forefront - that are in line to be worst hit by plans to regionalise wages for public servants in fear of them "crowding out" private sector growth. Plaid Cymru's Jonathan Edwards agreed that including MPs' wages would be "rational", but said he knew which way a vote would go in Parliament.

MPs won't be included. Neither, we learn, will doctors and dentists, some of the highest-paid of all public sector staff.

It will be largely low and middle income earners staring at a real-terms pay-cut to "rebalance" the economy.

It also appears that parts of the UK will be grouped together, depending on various economic factors, and pay adjusted accordingly.

This is the model currently used in the legal service, which Chancellor George Osborne is examining for the wider public sector.

The Ministry of Justice would not confirm how the groupings will be formed, but Northern Ireland is unlikely to be near the top.

Opponents of regionalisation - once touted by Gordon Brown - say it will exacerbate the UK's wage divide, creating a race to the bottom. Worse-off parts will fall further behind, without the lure of public sector wages to attract workers.

As the DUP's Gregory Campbell pointed out during last week's debate, many areas only came through the last recession because of relatively buoyant public sector wages. Unions are in uproar, not least because regional setting of pay-scales could weaken their bargaining position, making a repeat of November's UK-wide strike more difficult to secure.

Ministers are also facing opposition from within their own ranks - yesterday Liberal Democrat MPs branded the policy "stupid" and "unsound", pledging to resist it. It would be a brave MP that supported pay-cuts for their constituents on the basis that it might allow private business to flourish.

Plaid Cymru, which organised the debate, recognises this as a potentially explosive issue for 2012, labelling it more important than the public sector pension changes that triggered November's strike.

I expect Ulster's main parties, which all harbour concerns, to make their voices heard before concrete proposals are unveiled in July.

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