Pay freeze: Alistair Darling using 'wrong weapon on wrong target'

Public sector workers say the government pay freeze will demoralise staff as workloads increase due to recession

The chancellor, Alistair Darling, has written to salary review bodies calling for a pay freeze for 40,000 senior public servants in 2010-11. Another 700,000 middle-ranking public servants, including doctors, dentists and prison officers, should get no more than 1%, he said.

The following are some reactions from bodies representing affected people.


The British Medical Association described Darling's move as "very disappointing news" and insisted it was "not the time to demoralise doctors".

The BMA chairman, Dr Hamish Meldrum, said: "Penalising all doctors, and in particular singling out GPs for a total pay freeze, is completely the wrong move and is likely to prove counterproductive.

"Doctors do not dispute that the economic crisis necessitates difficult decisions but Mr Darling is choosing the wrong target and using the wrong weapon.

"Rather than punishing the frontline staff who are achieving better clinical outcomes than ever before, the government needs to fundamentally rethink its health policies to ensure taxpayers' money is not wasted.

"Hundreds of millions of pounds of NHS funding has been lost on poor-value private finance initiatives, expensive ISTC [independent sector treatment centre] contracts and unnecessary advice from management consultants, together with the market-driven reforms that allow commercial providers to profit from the NHS.

"As the recession takes its toll on people's health, frontline staff will be required to work at greater intensity. This is the time to support and value them, not demoralise and punish them."

The BMA has called for a 2% pay increase for hospital doctors and GPs, which it said was "appropriate and responsible" in the light of projected rates of inflation and evidence of doctors' workload.

"The pay review body is an independent organisation and we urge it not to be bullied by the government and to make its own decisions on pay, based on all the evidence," Meldrum said.


The British Dental Association indicated that more NHS dentists might turn to private practice. "We appreciate that a measure of financial restraint is necessary in the current economic climate. Clearly, economic prudence is essential for everyone," said John Milne, chair of the association's general dental practice committee.

"However, it must be remembered that, almost uniquely in the NHS, dentists are personally responsible for providing premises, equipment and staff to provide vital healthcare to millions of people.

"The costs of equipment and materials have also escalated, as they are largely manufactured overseas, and have been affected by changes in exchange rates. It's important that these increasing costs are met and that dentists are encouraged to maintain their NHS commitment."

Civil service

Jonathan Baume, the general secretary of the First Division Association, which represents senior civil servants and public sector managers, said: "We are extremely disappointed. We hope ministers aren't playing politics with people's pay.

"We recognise there is a crisis in public finance, it's very difficult out there. Ministers are telling us the economy is slowly pulling out of recession. This suggests the public finances might be in a worse state than the government has so far been letting on."

He told the BBC the average senior civil service salary of £75,000 a year was "relatively modest for what are very demanding jobs".

He said senior managers would have to advise and support the government in delivering significant cuts in public expenditure and now was the time to provide motivation.

"People have to feel that if they stay in the civil service they will be fairly rewarded and treated properly. This is a pretty poor way to motivate and reward."

A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents lower-ranking public servants, said: "We are going to find out later today to what extent our members will be affected by the low pay rises. What it does signal is that what has already been a tough few years for civil servants will get tougher. That will mean that lower paid workers will suffer and experience more pay cuts in real terms and more pay freezes.

"Last year 40% of Jobcentre Plus workers got not pay rise whatsoever. This paper politicking of people's lives is going to affect morale. The timing of the announcement does suggest a greater concern is being paid to the politics. We are fearful it suggests further misery."


James Sturcke

The GuardianTramp

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