Unions give their reactions to yesterday’s Budget . . . and it’s not good news for George

Tim Lezard

Osborne BudgetUnions have condemned yesterday’s Budget, describing it as “lunacy” and a “war on the public sector” while calling the Chancellor “bankrupt of ideas”.

The RMT went one step further, encouraging people to take to the streets like the Cypriot people to force the government into retreat.

Unions were most angered by plans to cap public sector pay at 1% for a further year, until 2015-16. UnionNews has rounded up their reactions below. The quotes are published in the order they were received.

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said “The Tory/Liberal government has not pulled off “mission impossible” which is to deflate the economy to growth and a balanced budget.

“Osborne sticking to plan A after 3 years fits Einstein’s definition of insanity which is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

“The US, which did not embrace such folly, has recovered. The recovery underway in the UK was derailed by this reckless stupidity. At the local elections in May the electorate must punish the two coalition parties for this lunacy.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Chancellor is either oblivious to the tough time that millions of public sector workers and their families are having or he is deliberately setting out to punish them.

“Public sector workers have seen their pay frozen as the cost of living soars and thousands now find themselves earning less than the living wage.

“Family budgets are at breaking point and millions of nurses, teachers, fire-fighters, council workers and civil servants will have been hoping the Chancellor might ease their pain today, not add significantly to it.

“The government also seems set on ditching long-established, easy-to-understand pay progression in the public sector based on increased experience and skills over time.

“Reports of a further move towards a messy system of individual performance-related pay will damage morale – already at a low ebb – undermine team working, and do nothing to improve services. It would also mean much time and resources wasted on complex local pay negotiations, and it would make inequalities worse.

“This budget is the wrong answer to the wrong question. We face a jobs, growth and living standards crisis, yet today’s proposals are small beer that do little more than tinker at the edges.

“The only long-term way to mend the public finances is to get a healthy growing economy where businesses and workers earn enough to spend confidently, and those who can afford it pay proper rates of tax.

“To boost growth the Chancellor should use current low interest rates to borrow for investment in infrastructure and a big programme of house-building. He should stop holding back the living standards of those most likely to spend, and stop cuts that suck growth out of the economy.

“And while moving pensions and benefits into annual managed expenditure is technical jargon, it raises the possibility of further significant cuts in payments if spending exceeds the limit set by the Chancellor in his spending review.

“No politician likes to be accused of a u-turn, but when your policies are making the problem worse then it is time to find reverse gear.”

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: “The government’s war on public sector workers is causing serious economic problems.  Attacks on public sector pay levels and pay progression drain demand from the economy, forcing living standards down even further as the economy stagnates.  As we have said consistently, investing in the public sector including education is key to economic growth and prosperity.  The government’s dreadful record on growth is testament to these truths.  George Osborne has even failed his own economic tests, yet offers only more of the same. The IMF and others have criticised the Government’s austerity measures and their damaging consequences.  As a society we are paying a high price for these dogma-driven attacks on the public sector.

“Education is high on the government’s hit list. Schools and colleges have not been ‘protected’ as the government claims, but have suffered significant real terms funding cuts.  Tuition fees have been trebled, the Education Maintenance Allowance has been cut, sixth form colleges’ funding is being cut by almost a fifth and the limited programme to rebuild schools in great disrepair has ground to a halt.  Youth unemployment is rising again.

“Teachers have already seen their pay frozen, in addition to significant cuts in take-home pay due to the increase in pension contributions.  With the extension of the government’s 1% pay cap for another year alongside persistently high inflation, teachers now face an even longer period of on-going real terms pay cuts.  Teachers also face attempts by Michael Gove to dismantle the national pay structure.  These changes are a deliberate attempt to reduce the value of teacher pay – another attack on teachers, undermining fairness and threatening future teacher supply.  The NUT and NASUWT campaign to Protect Teachers and Defend Education shows that we are determined to resist these reckless attacks on our living standards and economic future.”

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt, said: “We agree with the chancellor that education is vital to the long-term prospects of the country. However, warm words are simply not enough when universities and colleges are victims of his cuts.

“Education is absolutely fundamental to our future both as a nation that can compete on the global stage and to getting young people into work. Over one in five 16 to 24-year-olds are unemployed. We need to be doing much more to help them, not slashing funding for education and hiking up the cost of going to college or university.

“Public servants across the board are being asked to do more for less. While millionaires look forward to a tax break, families across the country will see yet another erosion in their standards of living. Instead of spending money to try and stimulate some growth in our struggling economy, they will be worrying about how to meet their ever-increasing bills.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “This is a budget for the few by the few that attacks the many. Millionaires are days away from getting a £40,000 tax cut from the Tories, but George Osborne is using the budget to attack hard-working public sector workers.

“The worst chancellor in British history has gone further by giving big business another tax cut while staff caring for the sick get pay cuts. This Chancellor’s idea of aspiration is a warped one.  Nurses, police and public servants take a pay hit, while corporations and millionaires are allowed to duck their tax duties to the nation.

“Borrowing is up, growth is halved again and the Chancellor is missing his debt targets. His litany of failures has left Britain hamstrung and there are no measures in the budget to give the economy the major boost it needs now. He is lining up the nation for further gloom and cuts in June through the spending review. His government means more misery for the majority.

“The heralded £10,000 tax threshold offers little hope other than an extra pound or two in low waged workers’ pockets, while again helping the higher-waged.

“If he really wanted to show he was on the side of the worse off, who aspire to get through the week, he should have raised the national minimum wage by £1 and drop the senseless plan to give millionaires a tax break in a few days time.”

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “This was a real opportunity to kick-start a flagging economy by investing in infrastructure and creating the thousands of skilled jobs that our nation needs. But the Chancellor failed to do this today. The £3bn of additional capital spending announced pales into insignificance beside the £12.8bn cut over the last three years. This will not create the new skilled and long-term jobs we want to see in the energy, technology and science sectors.

“The government is getting it wrong on policy and delivery. Prospect agrees with the IMF and Vince Cable, who have said that, with record low interest rates, now is the right time to invest in infrastructure and create the jobs that will strengthen the economy.

“The current plan has led to just 0.7% growth since 2010, compared to the 5.3% forecast at that time. But the government also needs to get it right on delivery. The government’s own infrastructure pipeline shows that only seven of the 576 projects (1.2%) are completed or operational and just 18.2% of the projects have started.

“To rub salt in the wounds of skilled public sector workers, today’s announcement will make them poorer through the government’s expressed desire to remove contractually agreed pay progression. They have already seen a rise in their pension contributions, and effectively a pay cut with increases of under 1%, which will be the case until at least 2016. This is leading to a widening gap between themselves and similarly skilled workers in the private sector.

“The Chancellor’s prescription appears to be an equality of misery between public and private sectors. The private sector does not flourish when the public sector diminishes, the Chancellor has not learned from his mistakes over the last three years. It is time for a change of direction.”

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Osborne is out of ideas and should be out of a job.  His Budget announcement today acknowledges that the country is in desperate need of economic stimulus, but his pride is getting in the way of delivering the shot needed.  Even traditional Tory supporters have warned him, that he is on the wrong road, but his too little, too late Budget is a sign that his ego is bigger than his concern for the people of this country.

“The Chancellor is clearly bankrupt of ideas.   His bleak austerity agenda and fiscal inertia is leading to stagnation, robbing the country of the government’s prized AAA rating and tipping it towards a triple dip recession.

“Attacking public services is the Chancellor’s default setting. Osborne talks about supporting people with aspirations but does exactly the opposite. He is attacking pay progression that is designed to reflect workers’ aspirations – doing more training, gaining skills and experience and demonstrating commitment to their jobs to get to the top of their grade.

“On top of the three-year public service pay freeze workers will now have their pay pegged to 1% until 2015/16 – what does that say about giving people aspirations?

“Osborne can’t dig the country out the hole he has made – more cuts are not the answer to revitalising the economy.”

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “The decision to extend the public sector pay cap for a further year by limiting pay uplifts to a limit of up to 1% confirms that in reality the independent pay review bodies are redundant and have been since 2010.

“The Chancellor’s statement that substantial savings will be made from limiting pay progress of public sector workers confirms that the School Teachers’ Review Body has been duped by Michael Gove. The changes made to the teachers’ pay structure were nothing to do with rewarding ‘good teachers’ as the Secretary of State claimed but in fact were, as the NASUWT predicted, a precursor to extending further pay depression to teachers and now to all other public service workers.

“The Chancellor’s claim that school budgets are protected is as risible as his statement that he is saving jobs. Schools are facing a real terms cut to their budgets of over 3%.

“His continuing cuts have resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs and record levels of unemployment, particularly among the young.

“This budget will inflict even more misery on already hard pressed ordinary families.”

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Instead of stimulating growth, the Chancellor has chosen to cut the living standards of six million public sector workers still further, not only by extending their 1% pay limit for another year but also by cutting their hopes of career progression.

“In the middle of the biggest baby boom for 50 years, we desperately need more teachers.  This Budget risks depriving our children of the high quality education they deserve by making teaching a low paid and unattractive profession.”

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “This is the same old mixture of cuts and austerity from this Government of the rich, for the rich and will do nothing to tackle the evils of poverty and unemployment that are devastating the lives of millions of people away from the cosy world of the political class and the Westminster bubble.

“Never mind the triple dip recession, the greed of the speculators and bankers has locked Britain into a full-scale depression and today George Osborne has chosen to ladle out more of the same, failed policies that have shattered this nation. The Cypriot people have shown us the way – get on the streets, stand up to the political and boss class and you can  force the rich and the powerful into a full scale retreat.”

NUS deputy president Toni Pearce said: “The Chancellor has failed to improve the economy, and refused to change course and it is the most vulnerable that are paying the price. An entire generation who had nothing to do with creating the problems he is failing to address are paying the price for his stubbornness.

“Young people are unemployed and underemployed and don’t have access to the education and training they need. The government claims to be the champion of those who want to work hard but young people are crying out for opportunities to work and to learn but nothing is being done.

“At a time when private companies are increasingly trying to get their claws into education it’s good to see the government hinting it might change course on plans to aid those put profit before education.”

 


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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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