Northern Ireland finance minister criticises ‘disappointing’ public pay freeze

The freeze on pay in the public sector has been described as “disappointing” by the Northern Ireland finance minister.

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy has hit out at the announcement by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, which he said would not support the health service or the most vulnerable in society.

He said the announcement was particularly disappointing in the context of the challenges posed by coronavirus and Brexit.

Mr Murphy said: “The Chancellor’s announcement on freezing pay in the public sector is disappointing and will have implications for the funding of pay awards here.

“Today’s announcement does not deliver the funding we need to support the health service, public services, vulnerable people, businesses and workers.”

He added: “Covid and Brexit create huge challenges for our economy and public services. In that context, today’s announcement is disappointing.

“The Executive’s budget for everyday spending on public services stands still while capital investment needed to kick-start an economic recovery only increases marginally.”

Meanwhile, a police pay freeze in Northern Ireland will be a “massive disappointment”, a representative organisation said.

Thousands of officers have been warned to brace for the measure following the Chancellor’s Spending Review.

Mr Sunak confirmed that public sector workers, excluding some NHS staff and those earning less than £24,000, will have their salaries frozen next year.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer pay is linked to that of their counterparts in England and Wales.

The pay “pause” for them means the same is highly likely to happen in Northern Ireland, the Police Federation for Northern Ireland said.

Its chairman, Mark Lindsay, said: “This will play very badly with the 6,800 officers I represent in Northern Ireland.

“It will come as a massive disappointment and also cause justifiable anger and frustration.

“Freezing pay for a year is, in effect, a pay cut.

“It will cause hardship for police families and serve to deter people from considering a career in policing.”

Northern Ireland Troubles
Northern Ireland Troubles

He said it meant, for the 11th year in a row, police pay had either declined or remained static.

“It is a deplorable decision by the Government,” he added.

“Our officers are in the forefront of policing the Covid-19 pandemic and this is the way the Government rewards us.

“They certainly have not been immune from the economic impact of Covid, with many policing family units already having to deal with redundancy in their household.”

He noted a “worrying” trend where experienced officers are leaving to take up alternative employment that offered better financial rewards and a lot less hassle.

“This pay ‘pause’ can, in no way, be justified,” he said.

“It seems that once again, the police are the low-hanging fruit, the easy option, as the Government tries to balance the books.

“One minute we hear loud praise from the Government for the work that we do, the next, it’s a draconian pay freeze.

“The two cannot be reconciled.

“It’s a case of penalising those who offer the most.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the spending review was a “missed opportunity” to prepare people, public services and the economy for the challenges of coming months.

“It takes some brass neck to stand at your door every week during the summer clapping for key workers only to freeze their pay during the winter,” he said.

“But it clearly demonstrates that when the going gets tough, this Government will throw those who have contributed the most during this crisis under the bus while handing out lucrative contracts to their friends and a favoured few.”

An additional £900 million will be made available to the Northern Ireland Executive in the next financial year.

DUP Treasury spokesman Sammy Wilson said: “Northern Ireland businesses are also set to benefit from a UK-wide increase in infrastructure spending, with a particular focus on the additional money set aside for new and more efficient buses.

“In addition, there are a number of other major projects which construction firms in Northern Ireland are well placed to participate in.”