UK Politics

Mark Carney: The bearer of good news?

Mark Carney addresses the TUC conference Image copyright PA

As Bank of England governor Mark Carney addresses the TUC conference, how do the unions feel about his message?

The guv'nor came calling with some bits of good news.

From next year wages will be going up, after a prolonged period when they've failed to keep pace with inflation. Unemployment will fall too.

But the suavely dressed Canadian predicted that the Bank of England would have to raise the base rate, just a little bit at at time, ending up somewhere more normal than the current historically low 0.5%.

After a 28-minute speech - long on technical detail and short on rhetorical flourish - he was greeted with polite applause.

Satwant Saloo, a delegate with the public sector union Unison, said: "It was quite a long speech. But I think it gave some hope to the people.

"Whether the wage rise will happen or not, I don't know, but overall it was quite a positive effort. Mark Carney was calm and his message was subtle."

Image caption Satwant Saloo: 'It gave some hope to people.'

Mr Carney's visit was only the third by a Bank of England governor to a TUC conference, following those of Eddie George in 1998 and Mervyn King in 2010.

He did something similar in his previous incarnation as the boss of the Bank of Canada, but this was still a big deal. Mr Carney was seen poring over his script late on Monday night in one of the bars overlooking Liverpool's Albert Dock, sipping a pint of lager.

At the next table along sat Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman and her husband, the shadow local government minister Jack Dromey. Mr Carney joined them for a brief chat before retiring to his quarters, probably adding a few last amendments to his text.

But the speech's tone was not one born of the ale house. It combined a sober look at real wages in a global context with a discussion of the Bank's monetary policy.

Some of the passages were a little hard to follow. At one stage Mr Carney said: "Unit labour costs are currently soft (growing at around 1% in the economy as a whole), are below the growth rate necessary to meet the inflation target, and indicate that there is further to go before we reach the new sustainable level of employment."

Image caption Patrick Carragher: 'I thought he did well.'

It was very different from the TUC's usual addresses by soundbite-heavy politicians. Some delegates appreciated this.

"I thought he did well," said Patrick Carragher, of the BACM miners' union. "There was an implicit acknowledgement that there has been a fall in wages for workers since the downturn. That was quite a positive development."

The beginning of the speech was punctuated by three rounds of applause, all relating to Mr Carney's announcement that the Bank was paying all staff a "living wage".

Thereafter he was heard in near-silence.

Earlier this week the TUC voted to demand a minimum wage of £10 an hour.

Image caption Pauline McCarthy: 'He said some positive things.'

Pauline McCarthy, a member of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, which proposed the motion, said: "He said that there will be a pay increase over the next three or four years. But that's not quite the £10 an hour we're asking for.

"Over the last few years there's been a lot of restructuring in the food industry. There's not as much overtime and wages have been frozen. What Mark Carney said won't make all that better but he said some positive things."

Not that it mattered to one female delegate.

"To be honest I didn't really listen to it," she said. "I was busy doing some work on my phone."

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