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Liz Truss U-Turns On "Politically Suicidal" Public Sector Pay Plans

Liz Truss speaking at the Conservative leadership hustings in Leeds, July 28 2022

4 min read

Liz Truss has been forced into a U-turn over public sector pay this morning, after her proposals sparked a fierce Tory backlash and were described as “politically suicidal”.

Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership frontrunner Truss triggered a major row with the announcement that she would link civil servants' pay to the living standards of the place they work.

The policy could have meant similar jobs are paid differently across the country, with those outside of London and the South East set to lose out. 

Following the criticism, a Truss campaign spokesperson said there had been a "wilful misrepresentation" of her campaign. "Current levels of public sector pay will absolutely be maintained," they added. 

"Anything to suggest otherwise is simply wrong. Our hard-working frontline staff are the bedrock of society and there will be no proposal taken forward on regional pay boards for civil servants or public sector workers."

A source close to Rishi Sunak, Truss' rival to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, said: “The lady is for turning.”

Truss had previously said the plans could save £8.8bn a year if rolled out to the entire public sector, but were described as a “ticking time bomb” by backers of Sunak. 

“It drives a coach and horses through the levelling-up agenda,” Simon Hoare, the Sunak-backing Conservative MP for North Dorset, told PoliticsHome.

“It does nothing to help the economy outside of London at a time of the cost-of-living crisis.

“She is proposing to take actual money out of peoples’ pockets.

“There is no regionalisation of electricity bills or petrol prices. They are static across the piece.

“It’s just nonsense, and it’s also really bad news for Greater London and southeast, because it just keeps the temperature rising there in terms of people moving to it.

“It is the absolutely antithesis of one nation Conservatism, politically suicidal, and economically illiterate.”

According to Policy Exchange figures circulating among Sunak backers, women would be hit hardest by the proposed policy if rolled out across the public sector, with them making up more than 4 million of those set for a pay cut. While workers in Wales would be left worse off. 

A source also suggested the plans would be a “gift” to Labour, that would punish workers in the key Red Wall territories that helped propel the Conservatives to victory in 2019 just before a general election. 

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said he was left “actually speechless” by the announcement.

“There is simply no way you can do this without a massive pay cut for 5.5 million people including nurses, police officers and our armed forces outside London,” the Tory rising star and Sunak backer said. 

“Liz Truss’s campaign is explicit that their savings target is only possible ‘if the system were to be adopted for all public sector workers’.” 

“This is a ticking time bomb set by team Truss that will explode ahead of the next general election.”

A source on the Truss campaign said it was "rich" of Sunak backers to accuse the Foreign Secretary of a U-turn.

"Rich coming from Sunak's backers when they stayed schtum on his massive U-turns on tax cuts, VAT cuts, grammar schools, China, EU regulations, Northern Ireland protocol, planning – just to name a few," they told PoliticsHome.

One Truss supporter dismissed the row as “tomorrow’s fish and chip paper”.

Angela Rayner, Labour's Deputy Leader, said the now-ditchced plan showed that Truss was "utterly out of touch" with the public.

"If Liz Truss is handed the keys to Number 10, workers outside the M25 will see their pay levelled down as she kicks out the ladder. The Conservatives’ commitment to levelling up is dead on arrival with Lightweight Liz as Prime Minister," she said.

Steve Rotheram, the Labour Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, told PoliticsHome: "Millions of people across the North and in the so-called ‘Red Wall’ were kidded into lending the Tories their vote last time but today Liz Truss is showing them exactly what her party thinks of them: that people are worth less in the North than in other parts of the country."

The Royal College of Nursing has labeled the plans an  “an attack on NHS values and a direct assault on its professionals". 

General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: "There are already tens of thousands of unfilled nursing jobs and cutting salaries will drive many more out of the profession. These shortages mean that patient care is suffering.

"National salaries are key to a national service. A move to regional pay in the NHS was defeated 10 years ago and I give notice to Ms Truss that I would fight her just as strongly this time.”

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