A Treasury minister has refused to commit to public sector pay rises, arguing it would be “irresponsible” not to take into account the impact on persistently high inflation.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, John Glen signalled the government could reject recommendations by the independent review bodies in the face of concerns that wage increases of around 6% for teachers, police and junior doctors would further fuel price hikes.
The chief secretary to the treasury underlined the government’s determination to tackle inflation, which he warned would be “tough to get down”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also said he was willing to make unpopular decisions on public sector pay as he warned that “inflation is the enemy”.
Unions have expressed anger following reports that ministers are likely to take the rare step of blocking some recommendations of the independent pay review bodies.
While the proposals are not legally binding on the government and, although they are typically accepted, ministers can choose to reject or partially ignore the guidance.
But this would be a controversial move, after the government defended last year’s below-inflation pay rises by saying they had followed the bodies’ advice.
It threatens to further inflame ongoing industrial disputes and lead to more strike action.
Mr Glen said: “As a matter of principle pay review bodies are a very significant part of resolving the pay issues.
“But obviously we’ve also got to take account of the effect on inflation.
“That would be irresponsible not to do that.”
He added: “Obviously I’m very aware of the massive contribution that teachers, nurses and public sector workers make and we’ve got to get the right outcomes that are fair to them, but also aren’t inflationary.
“Inflation is going to be tough to get down. It is something that we are focused on and we are united and determined to do so.”
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Labour’s shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy told the Ridge programme: “If we were in government right now we would be asking the pay review bodies to give far more weight to the retention and recruitment crisis in the recommendations that we make.
“We’d take seriously their recommendations but we wouldn’t be bound by them.”
Mr Sunak told the BBC: “When it comes to public sector pay I’m going to do what I think is affordable, what I think is responsible.
“Now that may not always be popular in the short term, but it’s the right thing for the country.”
Defending the rise in interest rates, Mr Sunak said: “The Bank of England is doing the right thing. The Bank of England has my total support. Inflation is the enemy for all the reasons that we have talked about. Inflation is what makes people poorer.”