UK Politics

TUC's Brendan Barber: Cuts killing economic confidence

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Media captionTUC General Secretary Brendan Barber: "The cuts are not working"

The government's spending cuts amount to a "national programme of self-harm", the leader of the TUC has said.

Brendan Barber argued that the coalition's policies had "killed" economic confidence, while ministers were "sitting on their hands".

He also said rises in public sector pension contributions would hit living standards, and warned that unions were contemplating co-ordinated strikes.

The TUC's annual congress takes place in London next week.

Labour leader Ed Miliband will be among the key speakers during the three-day event.


During his pre-congress briefing, Mr Barber was highly critical of the spending cuts, saying: "It's a national programme of self-harm. It's killed consumer and business confidence.

"The cuts have put the brakes on government investment and the net result is that almost no-one is investing.

"Without investment there's no chance of closing the deficit in the short, medium or long term.

"We cannot cure the patient by treating the symptoms alone."

He added: "The world faced an abyss in 2008. Bold action meant we didn't repeat the mistakes of the 1920s and 1930s... but our current leaders are sitting on their hands."

However, Chancellor George Osborne said the government would continue with its deficit-reduction strategy, which he called a "rock of stability upon which our recovery is built".

Abandoning the plan would result in higher interest rates, damaging the UK's prospects for growth, he added.

Economic issues are set to dominate the TUC's annual congress, taking place at the organisation's London headquarters from Monday to Wednesday.

Changes to public sector pensions look likely to be a particular flashpoint.

The government wants staff to pay in an extra £1.1bn from April, arguing that this will be fairer on taxpayers and make funding more sustainable.

But the Public and Commercial Services Union announced on Thursday that it would hold a nationwide strike in November over the issue.

Image caption Brendan Barber said ministers were not pushing for tougher anti-strike laws

'Our right'

Two other unions, Prospect and the FDA, which represent 54,000 senior and professional civil service staff, have warned they may take industrial action at the same time.

Mr Barber said: "I hope we will be able to reach a settlement without the need for extended industrial action, but the government is making it difficult to reach that position."

He added: "Does it mean we will face widespread industrial action? Possibly, yes.

"In the near future it's clear that more unions are contemplating now taking that course."

Addressing reports that the laws could be changed to make it harder for unions to organise co-ordinated strikes, Mr Barber said: "Ministers have said they see no need for changes. I hope they don't give in to pressure from Conservative backbench MPs.

"I don't like industrial action, I prefer to reach agreement - but in a democracy people have that right."

Mr Barber also said the TUC had not ruled out organising another anti-cuts demonstration at Westminster, following one in March.

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