Election 2015

Election 2015: Nick Clegg in public servants' pay pledge

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Media captionLib Dem leader Nick Clegg: "It is time to end the era of pay restraint"

Millions of public sector workers would be spared pay cuts under Liberal Democrat plans, Nick Clegg has said.

Mr Clegg said pay should rise in real terms for two years from 2016, and then by more than inflation once the deficit has been dealt with.

He said public sector workers had "made enough sacrifices" and it was time to end "the era of pay restraint".

But unions said their members deserved more after paying a "high price" for years of austerity.

The Conservatives have refused to rule out future real-terms pay cuts for NHS staff but said the billions in extra funding they are promising for the health service made a "better deal" more likely.

In other election news:

Public sector pay was increased by up to 1% in March, with schools entitled to give top-performing teachers a rise of up to 2%.

This followed a 1% rise in the previous two years, which was preceded by a two-year freeze, excluding the lowest-paid workers. Last summer hundreds of thousands of people took part in rallies and marches across the UK as part of a day of strike action by public service unions.

The Lib Dem announcement expands on its manifesto pledge of "fair and affordable increases" in public sector pay.

Under its plans, wages would go up in April 2016 and April 2017, at least in line with the consumer prices index, based on the CPI measure of inflation from the previous September. Inflation is currently predicted to be 0.2% and 1.2% in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

After these two years, the Lib Dems would instruct the review bodies that set public sector pay to deliver above-inflation rises. The party said the plans would mean a minimum pay rise of £350 over two years for a nurse paid £25,000 a year.

Key priorities

Lib Dems

Main pledges

  • Balance the budget fairly through a mixture of cuts and taxes on higher earners
  • Increase tax-free allowance to £12,500
  • Guarantee education funding from nursery to 19 with an extra £2.5bn and qualified teachers in every class
  • Invest £8bn in the NHS. Equal care for mental & physical health
  • Five new laws to protect nature and fight climate change

The deputy prime minister said public sector workers had made a "huge contribution to balancing the books" over the past six years, saying the "uncomfortable but unavoidable" curbs on pay had helped saved £12bn.

"Workers across the public sector have made enough sacrifices," he said. "You have done your bit to help the country get back on track. That is why the Lib Dems believe it is now time to end the era of pay restraint".

Public sector workers, he said, "deserve to know there is an end to real-terms cuts in pay and their pay will return to normal levels in the years to come", adding that "with the Liberal Democrats there is light at the end of the tunnel".

The Lib Dems have said a further £12bn in savings will be needed after the election to eliminate the £90bn deficit by 2017-18 but have warned other parties they will not allow further cuts to continue "for a moment longer than is necessary" after that.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Lib Dems said nurses would receive a minimum £350 pay rise under its plans

Mr Clegg insisted the pay plans were "eminently affordable", saying the party had already factored in future pay rises for teachers and NHS workers, representing half the public sector pay bill, into its financial calculations.

"With a balanced approach over the next two years, including tax rises for some of the wealthiest in society, we can finish the job of balancing the books and invest again in our public services," he said.

But Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis said the plans would mean wages standing still.

He said: "Public sector workers have paid a high price under austerity and the harsh economic policies imposed by a government of which the Liberal Democrats were part. No-one could blame them for viewing these latest promises somewhat cynically.

"With inflation currently flat-lining, it's easy for the deputy prime minister to make pay promises. What he's really offering NHS staff and council employees is two more years of their wages standing still."

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: "This Damascene conversion on the eve of electoral humiliation, coming from the party that pledged not to increase tuition fees, will be seen for what it is."

'Damage done'

Labour backed pay restraint in the previous Parliament, and its manifesto says any decisions on public sector pay in the next must "prioritise those on lower incomes", be evidence based and respect pay review body recommendations.

Asked during a health debate on Tuesday whether he could commit to ending real-terms pay cuts for NHS staff, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said "as a principle yes, I can".

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Image caption Boris Johnson has joined David Cameron on the Conservative campaign trail for the first time

But Conservative Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he could not say the same as he did not know what the public finances would look like in the future.

"My principle is that I want to be as generous as possible providing that no decision I take as health secretary means that we would end up having fewer doctors and nurses," he added.

Chancellor George Osborne said in October a future Conservative government "will go on restraining public sector pay".

UKIP leader Nigel Farage said higher wages in the public sector were "absolutely right" since the low-paid had endured a "miserable five years". The Green Party said it would restore the one million public sector jobs it claims were lost under the coalition government.

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