Ministers will need “strong evidence” before pressing ahead with proposals for local pay deals in the public sector, Downing Street said today.
Chancellor George Osborne raised the prospect of local agreements in the public sector to reflect differing pay rates across the country in the Budget last March.
However, the prime minister appears now to be backing away from the idea amid signs of growing concern across the coalition.
“Unless there is strong evidence and a good case for it, things won’t change,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said.
The public sector pay review bodies are looking at the scope for local agreements on the grounds that the present system of national pay bargaining drives up local wage rates in the private sector.
The plan is, however, reported to have run into opposition from the Liberal Democrats, with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said to be ready to veto the scheme amid fears of a backlash in northern England.
A Liberal Democrat source was quoted as telling The Independent: “It would play into all the claims our opponents make about the coalition.”
Last week the Conservatives’ only MP in the North East, Guy Opperman, who represents Hexham, came out against the idea, saying there was no “economic argument” for local pay and that it could lead to pay cuts in the region.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: “At last the government seems to be listening to our arguments against local pay bargaining.
“Unison has all the ‘strong evidence’ it needs to show the government it will cause a massive increase in costly bureaucracy, lead to key staff shortages and hit local economies and families hard.
“The reason the government wanted it in the first place is to drive down wages in the public sector further. It is a vote loser and the government know it.”