As if Lords reform, communications surveillance powers and same-sex marriage weren’t enough, it looks like there’s another issue that’ll cause a good deal of friction between Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs: plans for regional public sector pay bargaining. It’s something George Osborne is understandably keen on — James laid out the political and economic reasons behind it just before the Budget — but now the Lib Dems are making clear that they don’t share the Chancellor’s enthusiasm. In the Q&A after his pupil premium speech on Monday, Nick Clegg said:
‘Nothing has been decided. I feel very, very strongly, as an MP from South Yorkshire with a lot of people in the public services, that we are not going to do anything which simply willy-nilly exacerbates a north-south divide.
I really do think it's important that people should be reassured that we are not just going to sort of rush headlong in imposing a system from above which, if it was done in the way some people describe, would be totally unjust because it would actually penalise people working in some of the most difficult areas.’
‘There are many myths about the inflexibility of public sector wage settlements, but following calls for evidence by pay review bodies, distorted comparisons between the public and private sector workforce have been widely dismissed. They ignore the differences in the types of jobs as well as the age, gender, qualification and skill levels of staff in the two sectors, blind to the fact many of the lowest paid public sector jobs have been contracted out to private firms. Accordingly, many predict the introduction of regional pay would be bureaucratic and expensive and impact negatively on the provision of services, employee morale and many other important elements of local economies.’