George and the Dragon's wages

The scores on the doors?

All in all the Welsh government expects it will get somewhere around an extra £300m over the next four years as a result of spending plans announced by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement. Of that, £216m - the lion's share - comes as a result of that long list of infrastructre projects in England announced yesterday.

That £300m will be spent as the Welsh Government chooses, though in consultation - as per the budget deal - with the Lib Dems.

There was good news if you cross the Humber Bridge regularly. Money will be found to halve the toll. No mention of the Severn Bridge toll, much to the First Minister's disappointment.

But my ears pricked up at this passage:

"I can also announce that we are asking the independent Pay Review Bodies to consider how public sector pay can be made more responsive to local labour markets - and we will ask them to report back by July next year. This is a significant step towards creating a more balanced economy in the regions of our country that does not squeeze out the private sector".

Regional pay? More responsive? Does that mean public sector pay would in future vary depending on where you live? We've all heard of London weighting but let's be clear - is the plan that from 2015, public sector workers living in, say, parts of Wales could earn less than those doing the same job in the South East of England?

The answer is yes.

Why? Not, says a source in Westminster, in an attempt to cut the wage bill overall. That is not the intention but rather 'to create a better balance between the public and private sectors'. In other words - I think - over time the plan is that it will help reshape the two sectors. As workers lose their public sector jobs, parts of the private sector that might want to make the most of their skills and experience wouldn't be put off by their higher wage expectations. But logic suggests that if you live in an area where wages are pretty low, public sector workers are more likely to find their wages staying at the lower end of the national scale.

The Welsh Government is not, remember, responsible for setting the pay and conditions of public sector workers. These things are not devolved and are decided after national pay bargaining, so Welsh workers would be included in any structural change to public sector pay if it ever comes about.

Plaid's Rhodri Glyn Thomas had spotted it too, had calculated that Welsh workers were likely to lose out, no matter what the briefing was from Westminster and wanted to know what Carwyn Jones was going to do about it. Come on, he goaded, you won the election on a promise to stand up for Wales so "what are you going to do to ensure people affected by regional pay don't suffer more than those in other parts of the Uk?"

This was, said Mr Jones, "code for cutting pay in Wales". It's a bit of a hasty transcript but this was the gist of Mr Jones' translated response:

"Doctors, nurses, social workers - it's them who will see a cut in their income to pay for what we've seen today. It's not those people who should have to pay ... What we as a government are doing is fighting these cuts and, of course, considering whether it would be possible to ensure whether we as a government in Wales do control pay in Wales. That is something we will have to consider if the government progresses with these plans".

A few reminders, care of two search engines - one of them human and called David Cornock - of what happened when regional pay was mooted in the past here, here and here.

A reminder of what happened when devolving pay and conditions to the Welsh government was mooted by Plaid Cymru here.


If you want to delve a bit deeper, you'll find a report on regional pay and its implications for Wales, written The Bevan Foundation, here.

If you want to leap to the conclusion, then "it concludes that not only is regional pay inherently unfair, it could lock low paid workers into low pay and poverty in the long term".

Argue away.