Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Hurray for the public sector

A group of public sector workers have breathed a collective sigh of relief over the fact that they will escape Conservative, and most likely Labour plans for a pay freeze. Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne had suggested at the Conservative party conference that when it came to a public sector pay freeze, "We're all in this together." However it looks as though one group of public employees is likely to escape the freeze.

In autumn 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis, the Government took what ended up being a 70% stake in RBS. As market commentators claimed at the time, RBS was nationalised in all but name. Overnight a large number of 'big swinging dicks' became 'big public swinging dicks'. Apart from the fact that they now sounded rather like people who exposed themselves in public, it also meant that they were effectively public sector employees.

The implications of this were horrendous, not least because many of them thought that they would have to do things like join a union and fraternise with civil servants, council officials and social workers.

It then dawned on them that this government, and future governments might also consider themselves entitled to treat these 'big dicks' as subject to the same guidelines on pay as public employees - with all that that would then imply for pay restraint.

But they can rest easy. Chancellor Darling and Shadow Chancellor Osborne have no plans to restrict the pay of these particular public sector employees, even less actually to get involved in the pay negotiations themselves. We must remember, banks like RBS might well be nationalised in all but name but when it comes to pay that name makes a big swinging difference.