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What has the Budget done for public sector workers?

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Budget 2017 was billed as the opportunity for the Chancellor to respond to the 76% of British people, and 68% of Conservative voters who believed public sector workers had earned a decent pay rise.

With one notable exception, it didn't live up to its billing.

To deal with the exception first, it's definitely better to provide extra funding to the NHS than to not do so. We’ve been calling for employers and unions to have the freedom to determine pay awards through genuinely independent pay review bodies or collective bargaining as appropriate. And for the money to be put into place to fund pay rises.

So we acknowledge the government’s commitment to a genuinely independent pay review body for the health service and to fund any award that is determined through that process.

This will be contingent on a “modernisation” of the NHS Agenda for Change pay and grading system. Unions are already committed to talks on this but Conservative-led governments’ track record on “modernising” industrial relations isn’t particularly progressive.

For instance, the text in the Red Book makes clear that any pay deals have to be on the condition that they enable improvement in productivity and are justified by recruitment and retention. Those aren’t bad words, in themselves. Unless they prove to be code for further cuts to staffing, terms and conditions, and cherry-picking of different health service workers.  Be in no doubt that while hopes may have been raised for NHS staff, there is much still to play for.

However, we have also always been clear that the public sector is a team. It’s no good looking at how one group of public service workers have fared while ignoring what was on offer for the rest. And the answer is not much. The rest of the public sector didn’t even warrant a mention in the Chancellor’s speech today.

The Red Book contains a little more information. The government has “moved away from the one per cent basic pay award policy”. But they are still a long way from committing to fair pay for all public sector workers. From next year they're leaving it to the pay award bodies (PRBs) to recommend settlements, and it is at the discretion of individual secretaries of state to make a final decision on pay awards “taking into account their affordability”.

Today’s budget suggests these settlements will have to come from existing budgets.

There are no details as to the offer for public sector workers not covered by a PRB. Presumably they are also released from the one per cent limit, and so are free to negotiate on that basis. It remains to be seen what local and central government employers, for example, put on the table for these workers. But without additional funding we are not optimistic.

Phillip Hammond is failing to offer certainty on public sector pay. By doing so, he's leaving refuse collectors, prison officers and teachers in the lurch. A divisive snub to the workers we all rely on. 

The Chancellor had the opportunity to address the real harms done to public sector workers, the services they deliver and our economy today.

When he stood at the dispatch box he had an extra £8.4bn more headroom than expected, and evidence from the IPPR that raising public sector pay would deliver at least a 40 per cent return in tax revenue and benefit reductions.

It was an opportunity that he squandered.

Image: Jack Taylor/Getty

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