By Bob Duncan
The SNP have criticised a Labour front-bencher after he ducked questions on public sector pay from audience members during a radio debate.
On BBC Scotland’s Brian’s Big Debate yesterday, Labour Chief Whip James Kelly persistently refused to state what Labour would do differently on the issue of public sector pay after attacking the pay rise announced by Finance secretary John Swinney in Thursday’s budget.
When pressed by Brian Taylor to say what Labour would do, Mr Kelly’s first response was to say he would spend the salary of the new Constitution Director on public sector pay rises then, bizarrely, that he would use money which had already been spent on cancelled IT projects.
An audience member then asked Kelly what Labour were proposing to do and asked, if he had no answer, what was he doing in politics. He failed to respond. When pressed further on whether Labour would make a higher award than John Swinney’s 1% rise, he again refused to answer, simply reiterating the SNP’s own policy that pay rises should be higher for the lowest paid.
To provide a better deal for low paid public sector workers the Scottish Government’s pay policy prioritises those on low incomes with a firm commitment to pay the Scottish Living Wage and no cap on those earning less than £21,000 – all of whom are guaranteed at least £250 – or more than 1%.
After the debate, SNP panel member Jamie Hepburn MSP said:
“Labour are making lots of noise on public sector pay but they aren’t offering any alternatives. It’s no wonder that Ed Balls was heckled at the TUC conference.
“What Labour won’t tell you is that the big difference between Scotland and Westminster is that the Scottish Government is able to offer public sector staff a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies.
“And they won’t tell you that the SNP have ensured those on low incomes get a better deal than everyone else, targeting pay rises of more than 1% at those on less than £21,000. Delivering extra support for a third of those workers affected.
“And of course, the living wage is now being delivered across the Scottish Government and in the NHS, with two thirds of local authorities now delivering or committed to the living wage.
“Instead of suggesting practical ways in which we can support our public services and help protect those on low incomes, Labour are joined at the hip with the Tory Government in Westminster, implementing cuts on our budget which – as Alistair Darling promised – are deeper and tougher than those of Margaret Thatcher.”
The comments from Mr Kelly comes just over a week after Labour Shadow Treasury Minister Ed Balls was booed after he said Labour backed the pay freeze on public sector workers. Mr Balls was heckled at the TUC conference after he insisted the pay freeze was needed in order to safeguard jobs. The Labour MP also said that he did not support more public sector strikes.
John Swinney has always insisted that the freeze was essential if the Scottish government was to avoid compulsory redundancies. The Finance Secretary has indicated his desire to see the 1% pay increase adopted by Scottish councils, who will negotiate their own local pay-deals soon.