Peter Robinson’s proposal for a two year pay freeze for public sector workers earning more than the UK average marks a definite start to getting down to local budget negotiations. Gerry Adams’s call in the Assembly last week for a 15% cut in the salaries of MLAs and top civil servants was part of a threadbare offer but at least shares with Peter’s an attack on the public wages bill.
Peter’s additional proposal for “an end to “one-step progression” under which workers gradually move up their pay scales and the removal of performance bonuses, except for those paid at the most basic level” seems considerably more ambitious in the longer term. With VAT up from January and utility and other bills set to rise during the year how restive will the unions be, given a Hobson’s choice between saving jobs and lower pay without increments?
To balance a pay freeze Peter proposes inflation only rises in rates and still zero water charges. This is good politics but soft option economics. Figures are needed for Peter’s proposed savings and for the size of the dividend to be paid by the publicly owned port of Belfast. The predictable rejection of the privatisation of this and other public assets in the present climate will be popular with the unions and SF will hardly object. However so far only a modest dent seems to have made on the £4 billion budget shortfall.