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Monday, March 26, 2007

The rate for the job

On Saturday morning I had the privilege of joining the Education Minister and the Welsh Conservative Education Spokesperson in taking part in a hustings at an NUT Cymru event in Cardiff's Marriott Hotel. One of the questions asked was about the possibility of Wales creating its own terms and conditions for teachers, separate from England.

In all my discussions with teachers around Wales I am very clear that there is no appetite for this sort of devolution. Teachers are concerned that if such a proposal were to be introduced then, because of Wales' record of low pay, they would be paid less than their colleagues over the border. They also foresee that teachers on both sides of Offa's Dyke will have less job opportunities if they are employed on different terms and conditions. I was happy to give my assurance that the Welsh Liberal Democrats have no plans to bring forward such a notion.

How then to react to this morning's news that Welsh civil servants face being paid thousands of pounds less than their colleagues in southern England just because of where they live, under a new salary structure revealed last night? According to the Western Mail, more than 1,500 court workers in Wales would be the first civil servants to lose out to their English counterparts if Department of Constitutional Affairs goes ahead with their plans:

Union leaders warned that if the proposals to pay workers according to where they live are adopted across the civil service, more than 300,000 people in Wales could be affected.

They protested over the plans by the Department for Constitutional Affairs to impose a system which they said would leave workers in some areas at a disadvantage, leaving its staff in Wales languishing in the bottom two bands of a five-band system.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said the "unprecedented" plans would lead to a "North-South divide" between southern England and the rest of the UK among staff who work in magistrates, Crown and county courts.

The starting salary for workers in Wales and northern England would be around £11,700 compared with £14,400 for employees in other parts of the country, said the union.

I think that we need to be very clear on this. Devolution is about people having greater control over the local decision making that affects their life. It is a means for individual nations or regions to do things differently for the benefit of their citizens. It does not involve dismantling national pay agreements so that people get different rates for doing the same job. Not, at least, without their consent.

I do not believe that these proposals are related to devolution in any way. They have been drawn up by civil servants living in the South East of England so as to benefit their own area. They are trying to tackle recruitment and retention problems by drawing in cash from other regions when the obvious solution is relocation and, when that is not possible, more resources to generally lift up the level of civil service pay to a more reasonable level.

I am one hundred per cent behind the PCS in fighting these proposals. Regional pay would do major damage to the Welsh economy at a time when we need to attract more high paid, high quality jobs. It will undermine the Objective One status of the area and generally lower the standard of living for hundreds of thousands of people.
Surprised that there are no comments on this. Obviously Professor Brian Morgan does not read this blog. ;-)

Let's try to act as devil's advocate. Civil service pay is theoretically based on fair comparisons. Those comparisons should be influenced by geography, that is, civil service salaries should match those paid locally for the same sort of work, not inflated by the going rate in south-east England.
- Frank Little
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