First, I greatly value the important work that public servants do in delivering essential public services.
As a former soldier who served for nearly a decade on full-time service, I have been included in the Government’s pay-cap freeze and saw my own pay go up very slowly, so I understand peoples’ frustration. I continued to serve because I enjoyed serving our nation in the wider public interest.
Pay restraint is one of the many difficult choices the Government has had to make to help keep the public finances back on track. It is worth remembering that this country still has a National Debt of £1.7 trillion pounds, and paying just the interest on that debt alone costs nearly £40 billion a year, more than many Government Departments. We are still loading future generations with debt. That is not fair.
Also, by finding a balance between pay and public spending, we have been able to protect jobs in the public sector - hiring nurses rather than firing them. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimated that the public sector pay award in the Summer Budget of 2015 deal would protect 200,000 public sector jobs. There are now 13,000 more nurses than in 2010.
In addition, there are other things which this Government has done which have helped the public sector workers, and indeed all workers. First, tax thresholds have been raised, meaning people keep more of their pay. Second, by helping to support a growing economy, we generate the money to pay for public services. There have been over two million new jobs since 2010, the unemployment rate is the lowest since 1975 and there are more people in work than ever before.
In light of this, Labour’s amendment to Government policy was not a serious attempt to discuss public sector pay as part of overall Government spending (approx. £680 billion per year), but gesture politics. My responsibility to the Island means making sure that we have functioning Government in this country.
As the Chancellor has said, public sector pay policy has always been designed to strike the right balance between being fair to our public servants and being fair to those who pay for them. That approach has not changed and Ministers continually assess that balance, and I will continue to fight for more resources for the Island.