Give public servants a decent wage

MP Ian Lavery.
MP Ian Lavery.

If the Government thought its announcement of a lifting of its public sector pay cap with regard to police and prison officers would be universally welcomed, it has to go down as one of the classic political own goals of all time.

Of course, even the tiniest increase is a step in the right direction, but all it has done is upset those it was supposed to benefit, as well as millions of other public sector workers having to wait to see if they are going to get a pay rise.

Police officers will get a one per cent rise, plus a one-off further one per cent, while the figure for prison officers is 1.7 per cent.

It seems the announcement was timed to coincide with the start of the annual TUC conference, but it was also the day when it was revealed that the rate of inflation had gone up by 2.9 per cent and the retail price index by 3.9 per cent.

I am no great mathematician, but even I can work out that pay rises of two per cent or less when costs are rising significantly means that what you give with one hand will be snatched away by the other.

At the same time, the announcement infuriated nurses, fire officers, teachers and local government staff. It must be galling for them to listen to Prime Minister Theresa May praising the dedication, commitment, professionalism and bravery of the men and women who man our emergency services, as well as taking care of us when we need them most, while denying them a decent living wage.

We have seen the pressure our frontline services have come under from terrorist incidents in London and Manchester, as well as the Grenfell Tower block fire, but our police, firemen and women, nurses, teachers and local government workers do sterling work day in and day out, and they are all deserving of being treated fairly and equally.

Nurses, who are seeking a 3.9 per cent rise plus a bonus of £800, have seen their wages drop in real terms by 14 per cent since former Chancellor George Osborne introduced his pay freeze in 2010. That means they are some £3,000 a year worse off.

Teachers have seen the value of what they earn drop by ten per cent over the same period, while hundreds of hours a week are being lost by firefighters who cannot cope with the stress they are coming under.

It is not surprising to learn that emergency and public sector workers are quitting their jobs in droves and that recruiting new staff has become difficult.

The Government did not announce any new money for the police and prison services to fund the pay rises, which means that overstretched budgets will have to be spread even more thinly, and that can only lead to a further reduction in services or job losses.

I met with Steve Ashman, the Chief Constable of Northumbria, to be briefed on the work being done to cut crime and keep us safe. I expressed concern that the hours our police stations can be accessed by the public had been significantly reduced, with in many cases no availability outside normal office hours.

The safety of the public most not be compromised by miserly wage increases or service cuts. The police, fire, ambulance and nursing services must be given all the resources they need to do their jobs.

We know our emergency services are among the best in the world; that our teachers and public sector workers are dedicated and committed. Yet all of them feel undervalued and not truly appreciated.

It is a situation that has to stop right now with an end to wage restraint — something the Labour Party has pledged to do without delay.