By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday evening a debate was held on regional pay. I blogged earlier this week on why I don't think the Government will introduce regional pay bargaining – and the Commons debate last night certainly didn't dispel my theory. After initial pro-regional pay contributions to the debate from Elizabeth Truss, Mike Freer, Margot James, Aidan Burley, and Andrea Leadsom, Guy Opperman, the Member for Hexham rose. He said:
"There are two key arguments in the debate, the first of which is economic. Having worked as a legal aid barrister or state prosecutor for 15 years …. It was during that time that I saw the effects of local pay, as it is described, and took into account the argument of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) … who first contemplated it in 2003 and then forced it on the Courts Service in 2007. As with so many of the right hon. Gentleman’s economic policies, I see little evidence that local pay was a success. I have tried to study the economic argument behind it … I do not support such arguments, which are obscure at best and have not been shown to work in real terms. Also—surely this is the crucial point—it is not supported by businesses in my constituency, none of which has come to me to press for it."
"In our region, the Humber, we cannot get NHS workers to come and work and have to consider paying them more. A few years ago we could not get teachers to teach in the city of Hull and had to give them an enhanced salary to do it. Whatever the economics, the reality is that we cannot get some public sector workers to come to our region. How we would do that if we paid them even less is beyond me."
Mr Opperman continued:
"I also believe that regional pay is divisive and manifestly unfair. …. We need to be a one-nation coalition, and our focus should not shine too brightly on London and the south-east. We should represent all the people in our constituencies, from the dinner lady to the gentleman who employs 200 people; it is not an exclusive, either/or matter."
"I will not, however, support the Government today, and if this matter were ever put forward as part of Government business, I would not support it."
"I come to this debate with a question mark over whether I can support this policy. I share my doubts with many Conservative Welsh Assembly Members. … My concern is the fact that we have open borders for the movement of workers from across the European Union and that what has tended to happen in my constituency is that comparatively low-paid jobs have been filled by people from other parts of Europe who are willing to come into this country to work. I question whether, with those open borders, the expected effect of having a more local pay bargaining structure would work as my hon. Friend envisaged. That is the question I have, but I am sure that the research we undertake will show whether that is the issue or not."
The full debate can be read here.