Mon, 10 Jul 2017
OPPORTUNITIES exist to ease austerity and raise public sector pay – but not by bringing down the Government in the process.
That was the view of Newbury MP Richard Benyon after he voted against amendments to end the pay cap on public sector workers, who have seen their pay frozen at one per cent since 2010.
Amendments proposed by Labour’s Diane Abbott and John McDonnell said that the Queen’s Speech failed to end austerity and cuts to the police and fire service; and give the emergency and public services a fair pay rise.
The Queen’s Speech was narrowly passed by 14 votes, something Mr Benyon said would be a running theme throughout the parliament.
The Conservative MP said that, while there were good arguments for easing pay restrictions, “bringing down the Government in a vote on the Queen’s Speech” was not the right way to implement them.
“There’s a lot work going on with members to recognise the concerns of many about public sector employees and how we need to make them feel more valued,” he said.
“An amendment to the Queen’s Speech is effectively a method of bringing down the Government.
“That was the purpose of this, rather than any meaningful attempt to end the pay cap and I prefer to do these things in a more grown-up way.
“It was an attempt to make it impossible for the Government to govern and for a party that lost the general election to be asked to form a new government and I didn’t think that was right.”
Mr Benyon said that every Member of Parliament would like to raise public sector pay, but people needed reminding that the national debt needed fixing or the futures of young people would suffer.
The impact of austerity has been felt in West Berkshire as the council has had to axe frontline services, including libraries, children’s centres and bus routes, while schools and arts funding has dropped significantly.
When asked whether he was in favour of ending austerity, Mr Benyon said: “I’m a firm supporter of measures that the Government has taken to reduce the apocalyptic state of our economy that we inherited.
“It’s never going to be easy, but when you have over one million people working in an organisation like the NHS, a very large percentage goes on pay.
“With a bit of inflation creeping in and the length of time that public sector workers have had to endure the pay cap, I think there are opportunities to ease it slightly and indeed a good economic case.”
Mr Benyon also voted against an amendment put forward by Labour MP for Streatham, Chuka Umunna, over Brexit.
Mr Umunna said that the speech did not set out transitional arrangements to maintain jobs, trade and certainty for business, set out proposals to remain within the Customs Union and Single Market, and include clear protections for EU nationals living in the UK.
Mr Benyon said that while there was much cross-party agreement on Brexit and he was prepared to work with anyone to achieve the best deal for West Berkshire, voting down the Queen’s Speech was “crazy” and “akin to political shenanigans”.