Reports surface that government is considering ditching controversial 1 per cent limit

Scrapping the public sector pay cap would be a “drop in the ocean” that would do “nothing to address the years of pay cuts public servants have endured”, critics have said.

The Sun reported on Sunday evening that Theresa May’s aides were working on a package of proposals that include culling the 1 per cent cap on pay rises for public sector workers. However, the projected £4bn cost of the move means the measure would have to be introduced gradually over a two-year period, with nurses and senior leaders in the civil service being the first to benefit. It was later reported that Number 10 refused to deny the newspaper’s story during a lobby briefing on Monday.

However, unions were quick to point out that the decision may be too little, too late. “The proposals, which will not even come into effect until 2019 for many, are a drop in the ocean and will do nothing to address the years of pay cuts our public servants have had to endure,” said Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary at Unite. “Ministers make no mention of compensating workers for their lost wages.”

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, told People Management she was wary that the government may pick certain workers out for special treatment. “NHS workers, firefighters and ambulance drivers will be the first to say to you that public services are a team, so politicians shouldn’t be cherry-picking workers for fair pay,” she said. “Every worker in the public sector has suffered from the pay cap, and every worker has earned a pay rise, and any pay increase must be fully funded, not simply loaded on already-stretched councils, hospitals and schools.”

Meanwhile, Rehana Azam, national secretary at the GMB, warned that the “devil will be in the detail” if the government does scrap the cap. “The prime minister will not be able to get away with a sleight of hand on this one – we’re watching very closely,” she said.

The news that Theresa May was considering ditching the cap followed reports that Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, was planning to announce that the cap would be scrapped for Scottish public sector workers. She is due to set out her legislative plans for the coming year this afternoon.

Public sector pay restraint was introduced in 2011, first as a freeze on pay for two years and then as a 1 per cent cap on pay.

The measure has been blamed for pushing key talent out of the industry. Data from the Nursing & Midwifery Council, published in July, revealed that 45 per cent more people left the register than joined it between 2016 and 2017, with a fifth (18 per cent) citing poor pay and benefits as their reason for leaving.

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