Fish 'n chips, teachers 'n nurses

What's the link between a fish and chip shop in Chepstow and two nurses living in Taff's Well?

I'll give you a clue. Add 'teachers in Wrexham' to the list.

Then put the words "what about ..." in front of them and a question mark after them and you're there.

They have all been used as emblematic 'losers.'

Let me explain.

When the One Wales government was working towards introducing the Welsh Language measure, the concerns centred around the onus on small businesses to provide services in Welsh. Hence: 'what about the chip shop in Chepstow?' Would its owners have to serve cod and chips through the medium of Welsh? The answer was no but the analogy, somehow, stuck.

And so, to nurses in Taff's Well, to teachers in Wrexham and to regional pay.

Why, asks the First Minister, should a nurse who lives in Taff's Well and who works in Cardiff's Heath hospital earn more in future than her neighbour, also a nurse but who works in the Royal Glamorgan hospital down the road? Why should teachers in Wrexham earn less than neighbours who are teachers in Cheshire? If the Chancellor argues successfully for the introduction of regional pay, goes the argument, those nurses and teachers will be the tip of the iceberg, emblematic of the many thousands of Welsh workers who'll face a pay cut, who'll lose out.

On the first reading of yesterday's budget, the mood lifted in Cardiff Bay. "The First Minister's public and relentless opposition to regional pay has been crucial in putting a brake on the UK Governmen'ts intention to steam ahead with this" - so said a Welsh government source. "The job's not finished however."

"Rubbish!" said Cheryl Gillan. Neither she nor the Chancellor had noticed Mr Jones' relentlesses on the issue of regional pay, apparently.

Then, the Welsh Government took another look at what the Chancellor had said and decided that the brakes hadn't been applied quite so successfully after all. In fact, hadn't George Osborne pretty much spelled out the route by which he intends to introduce regional pay? Hadn't he said that several UK government departments, including the DVLA in Swansea for instance, would be given the go-ahead to consider negotiating local pay deals?

And take a look at this, the UK Government's Evidence to the Pay Review Bodies on the Economics of Local Pay - local, note, not regional.

Some Welsh Conservative MPs beat me to it yesterday and when they got to paragraph 30, put their heads in their hands. There you go, said one. Read that and tell me the brakes have been applied. They're so keen on introducing pay regulation, they're claiming that not regulating pay actually kills.

Welsh Conservatives in Westminster are nervous. When they go to meetings and hear that 'local' pay regulation is regarded as a better bet than 'regional' pay regulation (because a relatively affluent city like Cardiff, for instance, would skew the picture across the region) they get very, very nervous. One recently felt the need to point out to his more gung-ho, non-Welsh colleagues that they might care to take a look at his constituency and those of more than one of his Tory colleagues. Few would describe them as affluent. Most would expect them to be towards the lower end of the scale when it comes to future, local public sector pay deals.

This morning David Jones, the Wales Office Minister, spelled out the big picture. The UK government must 'have regard on the impact on the economy as a whole' he argued. Why can you argue that teachers in Denbigh should earn less than teachers in Dulwich? Because the cost of living in Denbigh, Mr Jones pointed out, "is considerabely lower than in Dulwich - I think even teachers in Denbigh will agree with that".

Because if you take another look at that evidence to the pay review bodies and look at paragraph 10, table 1, you'll see that the public sector pay premium is highest of all in Wales: 18%.

And because if you want to grow the private sector to balance the economy, then inflated wages in the public sector don't help. Think less 'what about the fish and chip shop in Chepstow', more 'what about a solicitor's firm in Brecon?' If this leads to a more balanced Welsh economy, surely that is a good thing.

But when a Conservative MP - Guto Bebb in this instance - tells you on camera that regional pay could be "potentially dangerous" in relation to Wales, David Jones, Carwyn Jones and every party leader in Wales will look at regional pay and tell you it's about to become a big, big battleground.

Brakes? It doesn't look like it.