Government prepared to ignore public sector pay review bodies

Chief secretary to the Treasury confirms some recommended rises could be blocked

28 Jun 2023| News

The Government is prepared to block the pay rises that public sector Pay Review Bodies (PRBs) recommend, Chief secretary to the Treasury, John Glen, has confirmed. He said on Sunday that ministers might overrule the review bodies. He told Sky News on Sunday:

“What happens is we have the reports of the pay review bodies, most of those have come in, and then we look at those and make an assessment. As a matter of principle, pay review bodies are a very significant part of resolving the pay issues, but obviously, we’ve also got to take account of the effect on inflation. It would be irresponsible not to do that, so we haven’t finished that process.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, on a visit to Nottinghamshire, added:

“I think people should recognise the economic context we’re in and I’m going to make the decisions that are the right ones for the country. I think everyone can see the economic context that we’re in with inflation higher than we’d like it and it’s important that in that context the government makes the right and responsible decisions on things like public sector pay.

That’s not always easy, people may not like that, but those are the right things for everybody that we get a grip of inflation.”

Almost half of public sector workers are covered by pay review bodies – including police and prison officers, the armed forces, doctors, dentists and teachers. Pay Review Body recommendations are not legally binding on the Government.

Trade unions have responded vigorously to the suggestion that the Government would over-rule PRB recommendations.

General Secretary of NASUWT, Patrick Roach, responded, saying:

“If the government chooses to ignore the recommendations of the pay review body, this will have profound consequences for future industrial relations, with industrial action likely in the autumn.”

Unison assistant general secretary Jon Richards said:

“In the last pay round, the government spent months hiding behind the NHS pay review body (PRB). Ridiculous claims ministers couldn’t intervene with the PRB led to strikes and much needless disruption to patients and services.

For the prime minister to be pondering blocking the other pay review bodies is utterly farcical.

It’s time to ditch this outmoded way of setting pay in essential services. Direct talks with unions, employers and ministers would be better for everyone. The Covid inquiry is hearing how investment-starved public services with too few staff were ill prepared for the pandemic.

Pay is key to turning around the staffing emergency. And reckless talk like this will prompt even more essential workers to quit for pastures new.”

Kate Bell, assistant general secretary of the TUC, said any decision to ignore pay review body advice would be “driven by politics, not economics”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that public sector wages had fallen “well behind inflation” and that there had been a “15-year wage squeeze where wages haven’t kept up with inflation”.

“It is a bit rich to hear them [the government] now saying, ‘Well, we’re going to overturn those independent recommendations’ when we haven’t even seen them be published yet.”