SNP government criticised over ‘supine’ decision to enforce increases in pension contributions on Scottish public sector workers

Tim Lezard

The Scottish government has been criticised over a ‘supine’ decision to enforce increases in pension contributions on public sector workers north of the border for a second year in a row.

It comes after the SNP Finance Secretary John Swinney (Right, speaking at STUC women’s conference, November 2012) said he opposed a threat to limit ministers’ ability to negotiate long-term public sector pension reform, but said he still intended to apply the Treasury’s contribution increase.

Unions say they understand Scottish ministers have ‘limited room to manoeuvre’ in constraints set down by their counterparts at the Treasury.

However, Dave Watson, UNISON Scotland’s head of bargaining and campaigns said: “Public service pensions are too important to play politics with.

“Over a million Scots are relying on these pensions, which are hard-earned savings for income in retirement.

“At present Scottish public service pensions are designed and run in Scotland and that is the way they should stay.

“It is very clear that the Bill going through the Westminster Parliament is effectively a Treasury power grab over public service pensions in Scotland which is totally unjustified.”

According to the SNP government, the Treasury intends to further increase pension contributions by public sector workers in the coming year as part of its programme to increase contributions by an average of 3.2% of pensionable pay by 2014-15.

John Swinney told MSPs his government would incur financial penalties of £100m a year if the same increase is not applied in Scotland.

General secretary of the EIS teachers’ union, Larry Flanagan, said: “It is disappointing that the Scottish Government seems prepared to pass on [Prime Minister] Cameron’s tax increases without a fight.

“Scottish teachers will certainly want the EIS to make clear their views on this supine behaviour.

“The truth is that these latest proposed increases in employee contributions have nothing to do with scheme cost or affordability.

“Not one penny of the increased contributions will go towards paying public sector pensions, but will instead be used to address the financial deficit.

“In essence, public sector workers are, once again, being taxed to pay for the collective mistakes of successive governments and excessively remunerated banking executives.”

Scottish TUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “STUC recognises that the Scottish Government’s room for manoeuvre is limited both through statute and budgetary realities.

“Nevertheless, the Scottish government is not completely powerless in this matter and the apparent failure to bring forward any meaningful proposal to limit the impact of these changes on our members is highly disappointing for hard working public servants who have suffered serial pay freezes whilst delivering hundreds of millions in efficiency savings for the Scottish government.”

Unions believe the Coalition government’s drive to cut pension provisions is undermining the statutory powers of the Holyrood parliament over the pay and conditions of public sector workers in Scotland.

They want the SNP government to draw up a so-called Sewell Motion to allow the independence of Scottish pension schemes to be retained.

Said Dave Watson: “If these two governments can manage to come to an agreement over a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, they can surely come to a working arrangement which will retain the independence of well-designed and well-managed Scottish pension schemes on which over a million people are depending.”

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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