Liz Truss has U-turned on her pledge this morning to save £8.8 billion by levelling down pay of public sector workers – including teachers – who live outside of London.
The Tory prime minister candidate‘s “war on Whitehall waste”, announced earlier on Tuesday, proposed regional boards to “tailor” civil servant pay to the cost of living where they work.
While plans would apply to new contracts within the civil service at first, the campaign said that potential savings of £8.8 billion could be made if the system was adopted for all public sector workers in the long term.
The proposals were heavily criticised this morning. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said it would be an “utter disaster” that would worsen already woeful teacher recruitment and retention outside of the capital.
The Department for Education has failed to meet initial teacher training recruitment targets in all but one of the last nine years. Data for the last academic year shows that only 82 per cent of its target for secondary teachers was met (16,571) – a shortfall of 3,857 recruits.
Teacher vacancies also grew across all regions between the 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic years.
“A policy which potentially leaves teachers in disadvantaged areas of the country earning less than those in more affluent areas would be an utter disaster,” said ASCL’s director of policy Julie McCulloch.
“It is already often difficult to recruit teachers in schools in these areas and this would make it harder still with consequent damage to education and a widening of the attainment gap between disadvantaged and other children.
“We need to invest in the workforce and improve recruitment and retention. This is crucial in terms of raising standards and improving life chances.”
Having been met with dismay from several corners, including other Conservative MPs, the foreign secretary U-turned at lunchtime – just hours after the proposals were publicised.
Ben Houchen, Mayor of Tees Valley and a backer of rival Rishi Sunak’s leadership campaign, said there was “no way” savings could be made without pay cuts for public sector workers.
Sunak’s campaign calculated that teachers, nurses and police officers would face pay cuts of £1,500 a year.
A spokesperson for Truss’ leadership bid campaign claimed there had been a “wilful misrepresentation” of the proposal.
“Current levels of public sector pay will absolutely be maintained,” they said. “Anything to suggest otherwise is simply wrong.”
But they added there would be “no proposal taken forward” on regional pay boards for civil servants or public sector workers.
The pay proposal is thought to have been based on research from the TaxPayers’ Alliance, which found that on average, public sector workers receive higher pay than the private sector in every region of the UK.
The campaign group argued that a localised pay system would ensure salaries were relative to circumstances in each region, bringing them more into line with the private sector and saving £8.8 billion in public spending.
Ben Zaranko, a senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), said the proposed savings would come from “pay cuts” for public sector workers outside of London and the South East.
Referencing an IFS analysis from 2019, he pointed out they were the only two areas where estimated hourly pay for public servants were lower than that of similar private sector roles.
Other proposals included ending taxpayer cash being spent on funding facility time for school trade union representatives, to save £137 million a year across the whole public sector, and “reigning in leave entitlements” to fall in line with the private sector.
The latter would include “capping the median holiday allowance for public sector workers to 25 days” which Truss’ team claimed would save “at least £2 billion a year”. It’s not clear if this included teachers.
Schools Week understands these pledges remain.