Editorial: Politicians shouldn't ignore evidence on pay

As the country prepares to enter a new era of austerity, public sector pay is in the firing line. Labour and the Conservatives last week set out plans for pay freezes, which both parties believe will help the budget deficit.

First up, chancellor Alistair Darling said that GPs working in England and Wales, along with senior NHS managers, hospital consultants, judges and top civil servants, should have their pay frozen from 2010/11.

Then shadow chancellor George Osborne said the Tories would freeze pay for all public sector staff earning more than £18,000 from 2011, apart from those in the armed forces.

What both announcements failed to point out is that GPs have already had pay freezes for three out of the last four years. And, if GPs are to honour other pay deals, such as that for nurses, and award their staff pay rises, then a pay freeze this year really means a pay cut.

The Doctors' and Dentists' Review Body (DDRB) is currently mulling over evidence submitted by the BMA, NHS Employers and the DoH. Its recommendations are expected to be published early next year.

With the government wanting a freeze, the BMA asking for a 2 per cent increase and NHS Employers recommending a 1 per cent rise, there is much to consider.

The DDRB's recommendations are usually approved by all four UK governments, but the government can ignore the advice and implement whatever pay deal it sees fit.

Mr Osborne's announcement suggests that a future Tory government may bypass the pay review process altogether and introduce a blanket pay freeze.

The current government wants a pay freeze, but it remains to be seen whether it would disregard the DDRB's advice if it were to recommend an increase.

One would hope not. The DDRB independently assesses the evidence to determine pay rises. This independence is of vital importance and helps ensure there are no unintended consequences of any pay deal. The recommendations the DDRB makes must take account of the views of all interested parties and not just reflect what the government of the day wants.


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