Public sector workers in Scotland have, over recent years, seen pay increases capped at a paltry 1 per cent.
And while politicians talking tough about their management of taxpayers’ money may hit the populist spot, the bleak reality is that this money-saving exercise has left some of the poorest-paid in the country even worse off than they were.
So it was a welcome development when Finance Secretary Derek Mackay announced his intention to lift the cap, allowing those earning less than £30,000 to receive rises worth 3 per cent.
This proposed increase seemed fair and might do something to lift morale among workers – many in vital roles – who have spent recent years watching household bills soar while their income stagnates.
It now appears that Mr Mackay’s announcement might not lead to pay rises for many council staff.
MSPs on Holyrood’s Local Government Committee have called on the Scottish Government to find an extra £250 million to fund a pay hike for thousands of workers after it emerged that those who are paid directly by local authorities current dealing with funding shortages might not receive the extra money the Finance Secretary suggested they might.
Mr Mackay, of course, doesn’t set pay rates for council workers; his announcement that the 1 per cent cap would go was not an indication that salaries would increase – it was merely an instruction to councils that they could offer larger rises if they so wished.
But committee members are quite correct to say that the Finance Secretary “created an expectation” that staff on councils would benefit.
After years of financial cuts, public sector workers are in dire need of some good news when it comes to their earnings.
Mr Mackay’s plan does not guarantee that good news. Instead, it could create a deeply unfair imbalance across Scotland, with workers in some councils enjoying rises far larger than others working elsewhere. This is not a recipe for greater morale but a blueprint for division.
Derek Mackay painted himself as the champion of low-paid workers performing vital roles. If he does not now find the funds to allow pay increases across the public sector, he will be held to account by voters and his administration will suffer consequences.