It’s unusual for me to be in support a policy of Alistair Darling’s; in fact I can’t remember when I last agreed with him, but if he carried through his signalled intentions to freeze public sector pay, this would be an uncharacteristically prudent move.
It is estimated that a freeze in public sector pay could save £5billion for the public coffers – every little saving counts at the moment and any politician signalling cuts in public expenditure is a step in the right direction. But this would not be the sole benefit of the pay freeze. It could signal the beginnings of a culture of change in the public sector towards efficiency mirroring the private sector.
Currently, and for the past decade, civil servants have enjoyed the best of both worlds. They have received good pay, comfortable working conditions, bonuses, unparalleled job security and huge pensions with very little downside. This has resulted in a stagnation of public services with no incentive to cut costs or boost productivity with no external and very little internal competition. Long-gone are the days when a public sector job was done in the vein of public-interest. A freeze in pay would send out messages that the public sector needs to really earn our money rather than automatically receiving it.
The chances are Alistair Darling won’t carry out his threat of freezing public sector pay. If David Cameron comes into power, he has already stated that he won’t be cracking down on public sector pay as ‘that is not the way we do pay in this country’ (whatever that means…). Even if this warning gives some departments a nudge in the right direction, I fear it will be a long time before we see a much-needed large-scale review of efficiency, waste and spending in the public sector.