You can’t put a price on geography
At the time of the pre-budget report the Treasury hinted that they wanted to do away with local pay bargaining. Although the announcement was met with consternation in local government circles the fact that the treasury had said they were going to ‘investigate’ the issue rather than implement it meant that we all sort of treated it with a large shrug.
George Osborne is not a man to put up with shrugs and this weekend it was announced/leaked/trailed that he was planning to introduce regional pay across the public sector. Whilst I don’t think he has thought this through I guess that means that it might just be time to take the policy more seriously.
I have (at least) three concerns with the policy:
1) The politics of envy
I live in London. I know why civil servants in the Treasury, who also do, might feel like this is a good policy.
I know that the salary I earn doesn’t go as far as it would if I lived in the same town as, say, my sister. I know that house prices are high, travel is expensive and commuting times are longer. I also know that friends of mine in London often earn more than me simply because of the career path they have chosen.
However, none of these things make the policy a good idea. I realise that the higher cost of living and the lower relative wages in my current home city are negatives but equally living in London is great in many other ways (not least the range of other job opportunities in the City) and I wouldn’t trade it in for living somewhere else with higher relative wages.
Yeah, I’m a little envious of those who live in Suffolk, Devon or Lincolnshire with their mortgages and higher relative wages.
Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure that making policy based on envy is a pretty bad way to govern. In fact I’m also pretty sure that George Osborne would say the same if we were debating a different topic.
2) Devaluing public sector jobs
It seems peculiar to me that we would decide how valuable a teacher is based on the local economy. If a community is based around low skilled jobs with low paid staff do we also want to accompany that with low paid teachers, doctors and nurses? Does that not demean the role that they are carrying out?
Whilst people do pay some notice of the cost of living in the area they want to work it is a simple fact that many of us judge the jobs we want to undertake based on the salary offered. If we then reduce those salaries what are we saying as a society about how much we value those roles? We only value a public sector worker based on the prevailing economy?
That can’t be right.
3) If we are going to vary pay rates is this taking them in the right direction?
My Mum is a health worker and in some areas of the country they are really struggling to find people with her expertise. Those areas are NOT London and the South East. Do the Government really think it is going to get easier to recruit the top flight public sector staff they want in some of the neediest areas of the country if they reduce the salaries of those staff?
I’m not suggesting pay increases across the country but surely the Government’s intention to attach pay rates to the local economy is as blunt an instrument as national pay bargaining?
There are many other reasons to dislike George Osborne’s policy and to be honest I see few redeeming features; well, apart from the fact that like the Civil Servants who helped write this policy, I live in London.
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