Tuesday, 24 September, 2013

On a lovely, sunny day in Brighton yesterday, in a slightly less than lovely conference room, The Equality Trust held a discussion on fair pay in the public sector. Our panel of speakers included Zoe Williams (Guardian), Will Hutton (author of the Hutton Review of Fair Pay in the Public Sector), Kate Green MP (Shadow Minister for Equalities) and Catherine West (Leader of Islington council). All provided interesting and insightful thoughts on fairness in public sector pay, and on how much more needs to be done to tackle inequality in the public sector.

Will Hutton pointed out that, despite over two years passing since the publication of his review of fair pay, little had been done to implement its recommendations. He argued that a pay ‘arms race’ in the private sector had spilled over into the public sector, and that a maximum pay ratio of 20-1 should be considered.

Kate Green said the public sector should look at comprehensive pay audits to see who benefits most from current pay deals. She also noted that the inflexibility of many jobs was a continuing problem, with very few senior level positions within the public sector advertised as available on a part-time or job-share basis. Kate called for training budgets, particularly for lower income staff, to be focused on as an important driver of greater equality.

Catherine West felt that public sector senior management often had little idea of life at the bottom of the pay scale. However, she also highlighted the difficulties that many councils face in holding private contractors to account on issues of low pay.

The Equality Trust’s Duncan Exley drew the discussion to a close by suggesting that the public want to see pay ratio requirements expand into other sectors, including areas like higher education and the public services industry.

In the Q+A session some participants argued that a number of vital public sector administrative jobs had been unfairly denigrated, with so called ‘front-line’ services seen as essential while other back-office jobs were deemed superfluous. Others criticised arrangements that allowed some sub-contracted work to avoid greater scrutiny.

With the lines blurred between the public and private sectors, the challenge of building fair pay in the public sector is a particularly difficult one. A number of councils and organisations are doing excellent work - implementing Living Wage policies and creating Fairness Commissions. But much more needs to be done.

Huge thanks to our panel of speakers and all those who attended. For those who couldn’t make it, there is a second chance to discuss public sector pay with us at the Conservative conference on 1 October

John Hood, Media and Communications Manager