Leader comment: Why public sector pay claims may now snowball

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hopes to ease austerity in Scotland. Picture: PA Wire
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hopes to ease austerity in Scotland. Picture: PA Wire
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And so it begins. Hardly had Nicola Sturgeon finished laying out proposals to increase taxes in a bid to end austerity, but the queue of public sector workers in search of a pay rise began to form.

As The Scotsman reveals today, the Scottish Police Federation is warning that it would be an “unforgivable act of betrayal” if its members were to miss out following the decision to lift of the public sector pay cap next year.

Their fears may or may not be justified, but what seems certain is that a growing clamour for more money by workers from all across the public sector is going to become a major issue for the Scottish Government.

Given the effective pay cut that many have experienced year after year, claims are likely start to snowball. Strong arguments will be deployed and emotions may run high. After all, every day police officers and firefighters go to work knowing they may end up putting their lives on the line; nurses are life-savers on a regular basis; and social workers do what is undoubtedly one of the toughest of jobs.

Hard-working people who have had to bear the brunt of the years of austerity following the 2008 financial crash will be hard to disappoint.

A blanket rise across the public sector might seem like an attractive and fair option, or as fair as it is possible to be in the circumstances. Giving some more than others could spark jealousy, feelings of being snubbed.

But recruitment is not immune to the laws of supply and demand, and market forces are not necessarily fair.

If the Scottish Government wants to improve a particular public service by employing more staff, it may have to increase their pay at the expense of other, more “deserving” sectors.

And the amount of money available for pay rises needs to be balanced against the need to improve public services.

For example, Police Scotland has warned that a two per cent pay rise would cost the equivalent of 600 officers. What is in the best interests of Scotland: paying police more or hiring more officers?

It is the sort of question that will be asked repeatedly about different sectors over the coming months. In announcing the end of the pay cap and that they are considering raising taxes so there is more money to spend, the Scottish Government may have created something of a rod for their own backs.