THE North East’s only Tory MP has criticised Chancellor George Osborne’s plans for regional pay plans as “wrong and divisive”.
Hexham MP Guy Opperman has told The Journal he sees “no economic argument” to justify plans to pay public sector staff in the North East a lower wage than their southern counterparts.
His comments make Mr Opperman the first Conservative in the country to openly challenge pay plans announced in the Chancellor’s autumn statement.
Mr Osborne will next month receive reports into plans to introduce locally-based pay rates for teachers, nurses and council staff. It is feared the aim of trying to match public sector wages to private sector salaries will mean years of pay freezes or even wage cuts across the North East.
Liberal Democrats, including deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, have already started to distance themselves from the plans, but Mr Opperman’s objections are the first clear sign that the Chancellor will struggle to convince all in his own party to back him.
Mr Opperman, who broke ranks last year when he called for a Mansion Tax to be introduced to pay for tax cuts for the lowest paid, has already met union leaders to discuss the implications of regional pay.
He said: “Public sector workers, such as those in our NHS are already working hard despite a pay freeze, job and budget cuts which are in place to help tackle the nation’s terrible finances.
“I see no economic argument for introducing regional pay. Our current pay system, which sets a base pay rate, already allows for adjustments in high cost areas like London.
“I am very concerned that regional pay would lead to a reduction in the pay packets of some public sector workers in the North East.
“I do not believe reducing public sector pay will help stimulate private economic growth.
“What will grow our private sector here in the North East is continued investment in manufacturing, exports and apprenticeships. That’s what the Government has done so far and that’s what we should stick with.”
His comments put him on collision course with party whips, a situation Mr Opperman said would not stop him pushing the issue.
He said: “I have always said I will put the North East first and defending the pay and conditions of public sector workers in the tough economic climate is just as important as my fight to build up our private sector.
“To me someone working in the NHS in a deprived part of the North East probably deserves more pay, certainly not less, than a nurse in leafy Surrey. I will be making this case to the Government over the coming months.”
Last night Kevin Rowan, head of the Northern TUC, welcomed Mr Opperman’s comments. He said: “Guy Opperman’s stance and decision to speak out against these proposals is welcome and reflects widespread opposition in his constituency and the region, from local hospital workers and teachers, to private sector businesses and traders.
“There is no evidence at all that further reductions in public sector pay will lead to an increase in private sector jobs. The more likely outcomes are that the best people in health and education would move to areas where the pay is better and that retail and hospitality in areas like the North East would suffer a reduction in demand.”
I see no economic argument for introducing regional pay