Liz Truss plan to cut public sector pay would ‘level down’ nation – Tory critics

Conservative Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen said he was ‘actually speechless’ at the £8.8 billion proposal.

02 August 2022

Liz Truss’s plan to slash £8.8 billion from public sector pay outside London is coming under growing criticism amid warnings it would leave nurses, police officers and teachers poorer.

Conservative Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, who is backing Rishi Sunak, said on Tuesday that he was “actually speechless” at the Foreign Secretary’s pitch to party members choosing the next prime minister.

Tory MPs and experts warned that Ms Truss’s proposal to pay workers living in cheaper areas of the country less than those in places like the capital and the South East would be “levelling down” the nation.

Ms Truss, widely seen as the frontrunner to take over in No 10, announced the move as a “war on Whitehall waste” to make savings from the Civil Service.

But Mr Sunak’s rival campaign said the plan would slash the pay of nearly six million public sector workers, with nurses, police and armed forces members facing £1,500 of cuts.

Mr Houchen said: “There is simply no way you can do this without a massive pay cut for 5.5 million people, including nurses, police officers and our armed forces outside London.

“This is a ticking time bomb set by Team Truss that will explode ahead of the next general election.”

Institute for Government programme director Alex Thomas said the proposed savings from regional pay bargaining would not come from Whitehall.

“The whole Civil Service pay bill is only about £9 billion,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“You’re not going to reduce the Civil Service pay bill to £200 million unless you pretty radically reshape the state.

“I know she wants to be radical but possibly not quite that much, so it’s going to come from the wider public sector, it’s going to come from nurses and teachers and local authorities.”

He argued the “complicated and controversial” move would mean nurses and teachers being paid less or receiving slower pay rises than others, adding: “This is not war on Whitehall, it’s more like war on Workington.”

Steve Double, the Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay, said the “terrible idea” would be “hugely damaging to public services in Cornwall, where we already struggle to recruit NHS staff”.

“The billions saved would be coming straight out of rural economies. This is levelling down not up,” he said as he vowed to vote for Mr Sunak.

North West Durham MP Richard Holden, another supporter of the former chancellor, said Ms Truss’s policy would “kill levelling up”.

Simon Hoare, the Sunak backer who chairs the Commons Northern Ireland Committee, said it is a “totally bad initiative” that would result in “levelling down”.

Unions representing civil servants reacted furiously to the plans.

FDA general secretary Dave Penman said: “As the Government faces the huge challenges posed by a new war on mainland Europe and recovering from Covid backlogs, what we need from a prime minister is solutions for the 21st century, not recycled failed policies and tired rhetoric from the 1980s.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said: “If Liz Truss is elected, and if she tries to go ahead with these proposals, she’ll face opposition every step of the way.

“Civil servants are not a political tool to be used and abused for one person’s ambition – they are the hard-working people who keep the country running, day in, day out, and they deserve respect.”

Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect union, said: “Liz Truss has spent the last few weeks trashing the record of her own Government. Judging by this vacuous attempt to garner headlines friendly to her selectorate, she plans more of the same economically illiterate and insulting ideological nonsense that this Government has been churning out in recent years.”

The plan was contained in Ms Truss’s policy to save £11 billion by cutting Civil Service time off, scrapping jobs aimed at increasing inclusion and diversity in the public sector, and by ending national pay deals.

The last point would mean taking into account the regional cost of living when paying public sector workers.

Her campaign argued it could save up to £8.8 billion annually if it was adopted for all public sector workers in the long term.

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