Peter Hoskin

Darling talks sense on public sector pay

Darling talks sense on public sector pay
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How things change.  A few months ago, Alistair Darling would only go so far as to not rule out a public sector pay freeze.  By the time of the Pre-Budget Report, that became a 1 percent cap on pay rises.  And now, in an interview with the Sunday Times, he's talking explicitly about public sector pay cuts.  He cites the example of the private sector, where workers have accepted cuts to hang onto their jobs.

It certainly makes sense.  Wages make up such a hefty proportion of public spending, that any serious plan to cut the deficit will have to take them into account.  Besides, there's the fairness point as well: average public sector pay has consistently outstripped private sector pay over the past decade – with, as the  Sunday Times points out, the former rising by 3.8 percent over the past year, and the latter falling by 0.1 percent.  It is, of course, taxpayers' cash which makes up that difference.

These kinds of interventions happen all too seldom in the public spending debate: helpful not only to Exchequer's leaky coffers, but also to politicians from other parties who now have more space to make similar points.  Indeed, George Osborne was talking about freezing public sector pay to save jobs a few months ago.  Now that Alistair Darling is treading a similar line, we may see even more progress on the issue.  Long may it continue.