The amendment that was voted against by the Conservative Party and the DUP on Wednesday 28th June was not a practical piece of legislation, but a party political move by the Labour Party. Tabling amendments to bills is part of the parliamentary process, but is sometimes used as much to make a party political point rather than expect immediate changes in government policy.
The wish to pay our emergency services and public sector workers more is prevalent on both sides of the House of Commons. I hope we will be able to do so within a reasonable timeframe. But pay restraint exists because the public finances are tight. Studies suggest that about 200,000 jobs have been saved by having pay restraint over the last few years. Keeping more people in work and off benefits is the short term priority, but it absolutely should be a priority to increase public sector pay as soon as finances allow.
Without compensatory increases in taxes to pay for public spending rises, though, the proposed amendment was clearly impractical. It is far easier to make popular promises about increasing spending than focus on the unpopular ways of paying for increased spending through higher taxes or cuts elsewhere; but a responsible government must think about both spending and revenues. Government spending has increased from £715 billion in 2010/11 to £802 billion this year; so spending has increased, but so has the size of the economy and therefore the tax revenues that pays for our public services.
The most appropriate channel through which to legislate for changes in government spending and public sector workers pay is the budget, and I will myself be lobbying for further increases in public spending, particularly for health, education and our security services in advance of the budget. The Government is following the advice of an independent committee in maintaining a public sector pay cap but is seriously looking into ways a more generous pay package could be sustainably implemented in the future. Voting through a vaguely worded opposition amendment is not the way to go about achieving this; building a strong economic case that can be formalised through the budget is.
I hope that this makes the point clear that my Conservative colleagues and I are not against the idea of raising public sector pay; we are simply against the Labour party’s method of achieving such an aim.