Page last updated at 14:40 GMT, Sunday, 13 December 2009

Scottish government considers top public sector pay cut

Tavish Scott
The Lib Dems want a 5% cut for the highest earners in the public sector

Scottish ministers are considering a call for a 5% pay cut for the highest earners in the public sector.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats raised the suggestion, saying they would back the minority SNP government's budget if it pay cut was taken on.

The move would affect bosses at health boards, councils, universities, government agencies and quangos.

The Lib Dems said the bill for public sector workers taking home more than £80,000 per year was £600m.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott also said there were 1,200 people in the NHS alone earning more than £100,000.

I cant just magic up resources to pay for the Glasgow Airport Rail Link
John Swinney
Scottish finance secretary

The proposals were put forward as the parties began setting out their conditions for supporting the budget for the forthcoming year, amid a tight squeeze in public spending.

Labour said it would be demanding the reinstatement of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link, which was cancelled by the Scottish government.

Outlining his plans, Mr Scott said: "We're asking the government to look at the overall public sector pay bill in Scotland and take out 5% across that pay bill at the very top, in other words, on people earning more than £100,000 so that we can protect people at the bottom and also help with the overall pressure the finances of the public sector are under.

"We want to see the government look at that kind of proposal to make sure that people on the bottom are protected."

The move proposed in Scotland would go even further than in England and Wales, which will see a 1% cap on pay rises for public sector workers.

Commenting on the proposals, Finance Secretary John Swinney told BBC Scotland's Politics Show: "I am considering it.

He added: "What the government has done already is we have frozen our own pay as ministers, we've set the example.

"We've made clear that, for senior civil servants, there will be a pay freeze into the bargain.

"We've made it clear that we intend to extend that pay freeze among high earners within the public sector and we'll continue to look at other ways of developing what's going to be a very significant pressure on the pay bill within the public sector over the years to come."

Glasgow Airport Rail Link image
Ministers cancelled the Glasgow Airport Rail Link

But Labour Finance spokesman Andy Kerr raised doubts about the Lib Dems' proposal.

He said: "We certainly also called for a pay freeze on the highest earners, but I'm not sure that's the top of my list of priorities in relation to how we actually stimulate economic growth and get Scotland back to work."

Ministers cancelled the airport rail link amid public spending concern and "Westminster-imposed cuts" to its budget, although Labour insisted the level of cash in the pot was actually increasing.

But Iain MacMillan, of business body CBI Scotland, said the bill for the project had been in the budget and there had been "no step change" in the cost.

He told the Politics Show: "The Glasgow Airport Rail link was described by the SNP transport minister as one of an number of vital transport projects, he did that last year.

The SNP government have known since the spring of this year that £500m was coming off their budget - we've known all this yet we get the cancellation of an airport rail link - a vital infrastructure project - this autumn."

Mr MacMillian also raised concern over the SNP's opposition to PPP/PFI private sector tie-ups to build infrastructure projects, adding: "The government is taking small areas where it has not worked and magnifying it into a generic problem and they shouldn't be doing that."

In response, Mr Swinney said: "I cant just magic up resources to pay for the Glasgow Airport Rail Link. I have to operate within a fixed budget."

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