Liz Truss’ plan to cut £8.8 billion from public sector pay outside London is under increasing criticism amid warnings it will leave nurses, police and teachers poorer.
Tees Valley Conservative mayor Ben Houchen, who supports Rishi Sunak, said on Tuesday he was “actually speechless” at the Secretary of State’s pitch about party members choosing the next prime minister.
Tory MPs and experts warned that Mrs Truss’ proposal to pay workers living in cheaper parts of the country less than those in places such as the capital and the South East would “flatten” the nation.
Ms Truss, who is widely seen as the front-runner to take over No 10, announced the move as a “war on Whitehall waste” to make savings from the Civil Service.
But Mr Sunak’s rival campaign said the plan would slash the pay of almost six million public sector workers, with nurses, police and members of the armed forces facing cuts of £1,500.
Mr Houchen said: “There is simply no way to do this without a huge pay cut for 5.5 million people, including our nurses, police and armed forces outside London.
“This is a ticking time bomb being planted by Team Truss that will explode in the run up to the next general election.”
Institute for Government program director Alex Thomas said the proposed savings from regional pay negotiations would not come from Whitehall.
“The whole of the Civil Service pay is only about £9 billion,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“You’re not going to cut the Civil Service payroll to £200m unless you reshape the state quite radically.
“I know she wants to be radical, but probably not that radical, so it will come from the wider public sector, it will come from nurses and teachers and local authorities.”
He claimed the “complex and controversial” move would mean nurses and teachers would be paid less or get slower pay rises than others, adding: “This is not a war on Whitehall, it’s more like a war on Workington.”
Steve Double, the Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay, said the “terrible idea” would be “hugely damaging to public services in Cornwall, where we are already struggling to recruit NHS staff”.
“The billions saved would come directly from rural economies. This is leveling off and not up,” he said as he pledged to vote for Mr Sunak.
Durham North West MP Richard Holden, another supporter of the former chancellor, said Ms Truss’ policy would “kill climbing”.
Simon Hoare, the Sunak supporter who chairs the Northern Ireland Communities Committee, said it was a “totally bad initiative” that would lead to “flattening”.
Unions representing civil servants reacted furiously to the plans.
FDA Secretary General Dave Penman said: “As the government faces the huge challenges posed by a new war on continental Europe and recovers from the backlog of Covid, what we need from a Prime Minister are 21st century solutions, not recycled ones failed policies and tired rhetoric. since the 1980s”.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said: “If Liz Truss is elected and tries to go ahead with these proposals, she will face opposition every step of the way.
“Civil servants are not a political tool to be used and abused for one person’s ambitions – they are the hard-working people who keep the country running, day in and day out, and deserve respect.”
Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said: “Liz Truss has spent the last few weeks tearing down her government’s record. Judging by this empty attempt to garner headlines friendly to her chosen one, she is planning more of the same economically illiterate and offensive ideological nonsense that this Government has been churning out for the past few years.”
The plan was part of Mrs Truss’ policy to save £11bn by cutting leave in the Civil Service, scrapping jobs aimed at increasing inclusion and diversity in the public sector and ending national pay deals.
The last point would mean taking the regional cost of living into account when paying public sector workers.
Her campaign claimed it could save up to £8.8 billion a year if adopted for all public sector workers in the long term.