Scotland politics

Swinney accuses PM of 'relishing' union strike clash

John Swinney
Image caption John Swinney said the pension levy was about balancing budgets rather than sensible reform

David Cameron is "relishing" a fight with unions over public sector pensions, according to Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney.

Mr Swinney called the UK government's proposed general levy on pension contributions a "naked cash grab".

He urged the prime minister to act to avert Wednesday's public sector strike in protest at pension changes.

A Scottish government motion to be discussed at Holyrood on the strike day will urge UK ministers to think again.

Mr Swinney said the strike threat had been caused by the UK government's decision to impose a general levy on pension contributions.

He added: "As such, it is a naked cash grab by UK ministers, driven not by the need for sensible and fair long-term pensions reforms but instead driven by deficit reduction targets.

"What is deeply regrettable is the fact that UK ministers, from the prime minister downwards, actually appear to be relishing the prospect of strike action and confrontation with the trade unions."

Daily routines

He urged UK ministers to take action which could help avert the strike and the "very significant disruption" it would cause to ordinary people.

"Members of the public right across Scotland will have their daily routines affected by the action that is planned," he said.

Chancellor George Osborne said the current offer was a "good deal".

He told the Andrew Marr show: "I'm trying to give them a good decent pension for many, many years to come - much better than you could get if you were in the private sector these days."

The Scottish government has previously asked the Treasury to delay an increase in public sector contributions until a pay freeze was lifted.

That prompted a warning from Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander that every month's delay in implementing the increase would lead to an £8.4m reduction in the Scottish government's budget.

The motion, to be debated at Holyrood on Wednesday, condemns the "UK government's threats to cut Scotland's budget by £100m next year alone, on top of drastic cuts to Scotland's budget, if it does not implement the UK government's immediate levy on pension contributions".

'Genuine cost'

General secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress Grahame Smith said there were no direct talks scheduled to resolve the dispute.

He told BBC Scotland's Politics Show: "Negotiations aren't ongoing. The last time the government spoke to the trades unions was on the second of November.

"Frankly, the government have spent the last two weeks engaged in a propaganda campaign to try to undermine the position of the unions."

But David Watt, from the Institute of Directors, said there would be little public sympathy for the strikers.

He said: "There are forecast delays of 12 hours for people coming into Heathrow. It will be absolutely terrifying if that comes to pass.

"I think the fact that schools are closed causes all businesses significant problems. There's a real concern and there's a genuine cost to it."

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: "We regret the fact John Swinney and the SNP are sitting on the fence and not joining Scottish Labour and supporting the STUC's day of action.

"The SNP government have only asked the Tory-led coaliton to delay the pensions' levy. John Swinney had a choice and the SNP have decided not to oppose David Cameron's government outright over this."

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