The chancellor’s proposal would effectively cut the real terms wages of more than two million public sector workers in less prosperous areas of the country.
The poll demonstrated only 28% saw the policy as fair and crucially just 17% believed it would actually help regional economies outside London and the south east – a key claim of the Treasury.
The TUC’s Pay Fair campaign against regional pay highlights the consequences and risks this would have for public services and crucially many regions whose private sector would be harmed by the reduced wages and demand.
A new poll (pdf) from Survation for the campaign explored public opinion on both these aspects.
The first finding was that 65% of voters thought schools would find it harder to attract and retain good teachers as a direct consequence of regional pay, 21% disagreed and 14% didn’t know.
As Chart 1 shows, this was also a view shared by 1 in 2 Conservative voters, thereby demonstrating concern about the impact of regional pay on services reaches across the political spectrum.
The second question polled related to the importance of an independent economic assessment of the likely implications for regional economies outside London and the south east. This is something we have been alarmed the government has not done. So far they have tasked the Pay Review Bodies to report on how it can be implemented.
There is an absence of what the fallout could be and an ideological assumption it would benefit private sector employers and therefore drive regional growth, whereas we believe cutting the real terms pay of nurses is unlikely to herald a renaissance in engineering. The public agrees.
Survation’s poll findings show 75% of voters want to see an independent economic impact assessment of regional pay; 79% of Liberal Democrats and 74% of Conservatives were just as keen to see it, while 27% of voters said it was ‘quite important’, with a further 49% saying it was ‘very important’.
If the government is to make any kind of economic case for regional pay they will need to provide some credible evidence it will not do much more harm than good to low pay and often underdeveloped regions.
The Pay Fair campaign isn’t going to spend time trying to persuade the government of the need for an economic impact assessment – we’ve commissioned a study ourselves. Early next month an independent and credible economic think tank will share its findings on the likely impact on low pay regions in the short, medium and longer-term.
Following the poll, Survation chief executive Damian Lyons-Lowe said:
“When presented with questions about the potential unintended consequences of the effect regional pay schemes may have, the UK public is genuinely concerned that schools will have issues with attracting and retaining good teachers.
“The public’s view on the importance of an independent study on the economic impact of regional pay is high across supporters of all of the main political parties. A deeper look by the government at these issues would be well advised.”
He is right. The political opposition to this policy is growing by the day with two Northern Conservative MPs speaking out about their misgivings towards regional pay and Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Gilbert launching a constituency campaign against the policy with the support of Lib Dem party president Tim Farron.
The Treasury would be wise to consult widely, review the evidence and think again.