John McDonnell MP
My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) and the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) have comprehensively covered most of the issues. There is little to say, apart from maybe the Minister saying, “I give up and we’ll go and sort this out.” I also declare an interest as a member of the PCS parliamentary group. There is no financial relationship as such; it is not even affiliated with the Labour party, although I keep trying.
I want to get across to the Minister what the Government need to face up to. In recent years, the Government have come for civil servants’ pensions. They lost in court over that, but they have not even addressed the legal judgment. In addition, they cut their redundancy payments, and now they are insulting them with a 2% pay offer. As the hon. Member for Glasgow South West said, these are the people who worked throughout the pandemic, and were applauded by Government Ministers for what they did. I remember the then Chancellor applauding HMRC and Department for Work and Pensions staff for the role that they played, many of them working from home. And then they get the insult of a 2% pay increase. It is no wonder that, for the first time in civil service history, there will be 100,000 civil servants on strike in a week’s time.
The Government rely on the myth that it is nothing to do with them, and all to do with the Departments that are negotiating. That myth has been exposed time and time again. The pay remit is set by central Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley said, the Government hide behind ludicrous pay structures. Having 200 individual units is not just inefficient but completely counterproductive. The result is that the civil service is demoralised, and it is failing to retain and recruit in many sectors. At the same time, I never expected public servants to be paid such low real pay. We have seen the issues with food banks, and some workers not even being able to afford the transport costs to get to work. Collectively, as a Parliament, we are the employers. Parliament holds Government to account; we all have to shoulder a responsibility. The Government have to recognise just how serious the situation is. They cannot underestimate the depth of anger that is out there among civil servants, their families and their communities.
The Government have hidden behind the high cost of settling at inflation-proofing; they themselves have used the mythical figure of £28 billion. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has already said that there is 4% to 5% within the Government’s existing budget structures for 2022-23, so the cost to get to inflation-proofing may be more like £15 billion to £17 billion. I will not go into detail, but others have pointed out how much the Government will get back in tax, national insurance contributions and so on. As a result of that, we are talking about single figures in terms of the cost to ensure that civil servants are inflation-proofed. The Bank of England destroyed the argument that this causes inflation in some way. Some 80% of the inflationary factors are external, and not to do with pay. The Government cannot argue that wages are causing inflation when they have been held down for 13 years. As others have said, they are now between 12% and 23% lower.
Finally, we need an inflation-proofing offer immediately so we can avoid the industrial action that is taking place. We want a reform of collective pay bargaining structures so we can get away from the current ludicrous system and back to collective bargaining itself. I think that in the future, all pay settlements across the whole economy should minimally be based on inflation-proofing, so that people are not impoverished as a result of pay settlements imposed upon them by the Government.