Ah, another day, another kicking for Brown at PMQs, and it seems another public service workforce is up in arms at the latest insult on pay from the Government. Bulldog-faced Home Secretary Jacqui Smith may have held the course of Labour’s sinking ship so far, but even she will find it difficult to stem the growing fury among policemen and women at the Government’s latest backtrack on pay deals for the police, previously agreed by the independent Police Arbitration Tribunal.
Instead of the 2.5% pay rise being backdated from September 1st, the Government has now decided to implement the new pay arrangements as from December 1st. As this reduces the pay increase to 1.9% (hence below the rate of inflation), Police Officers have argued that this effectively amounts to a pay cut, moods were blackened further by the announcement that Scottish PCs will receive their pay increases backdated from the agreed date. Following this decision, the Police Federation are now considering action – including campaigning against the Police Act of 1919 which bars them from striking – in order to lobby their cause.
This of course is hardly dissimilar from the Government’s equally two-faced decision for nurses in England and Wales – a 2.5% pay-rise being staggered (once again, reducing this to 1.9%), while nurses in Scotland received their pay increases unstaggered. In that situation, it was to the Government’s extreme good fortune that a combination of the legendary abilities of Health Secretary Alan Johnson in pouring oil over troubled waters, and the equally legendary calmness and professionalism of the nurses, averted an all-out strike.
Given the fact that it was this Government’s own incompetent handling of the economy that has led in no small part to this financial quagmire (who was head of the Treasury when these decisions were made, hm?), I find it difficult to sympathise with the Prime Minister’s growing list of concerns, particularly following his typically hyperbolous statement to the Association of Chief Police Officers' 2007 conference in June that "there is no greater obligation for us in government than to support you in discharging your duty".
Once again, this Government has failed to live up to its word, and many will have nothing but contempt for the way Brown has effectively treated the emergency services as financial whipping boys. The 1919 legislation was put in place to protect the public, not to give the likes of Brown and his cronies an opportunity to withhold from hard-working emergency service workers their due – and believe me, both the police and the nurses are due a reward given their consistently sterling service, too often without recognition.
Whilst no-one would welcome strike action, sympathy is likely to run deep in the minds of a public still appreciative of the commitment and professionalism demonstrated by the emergency services on 7/7, plus before and since. Given the tumbling approval ratings for both the Government and Brown himself, he neglects the emergency services at his peril.