Leading North East Conservatives have hit out at comments made by Tory leadership contender Liz Truss suggesting public sector workers in areas like the North East should be paid less than their southern counterparts.
Ms Truss has since u-turned on the proposals, which would have seen an end to national pay deals for civil servants and instead linking them to living standards where they live.
If rolled out across other public sectors, it could have saved £8.8 billion a year – but just a few hours after the potential policy was outlined, , Ms Truss’ campaign insisted there had been “wilful misrepresentation” of the public sector pay cut plan.
A spokeswoman said: “Over the last few hours there has been a wilful misrepresentation of our campaign. Current levels of public sector pay will absolutely be maintained.
“Anything to suggest otherwise is simply wrong. Our hard-working frontline staff are the bedrock of society and there will be no proposal taken forward on regional pay boards for civil servants or public sector workers.”
Ms Truss had earlier said that she would run a “leaner, more efficient, more focused Whitehall” while a briefing note from her campaign had pointed to £8.8bn in savings that could be made from regional pay. Ms Truss is thought to have backed regional pay when she was a senior Treasury Minister in 2018.
It comes after North East MPs made their opposition to the plans clear – North West Durham MP Richard Holden took to Twitter to voice his objections. He wrote: “The only way Liz Truss could get £8.8 billion a year is by pay cuts for doctors and nurses, police and prison officers, teachers and TAs in Cornwall to Cambridgeshire to The Cotswolds to County Durham.
“It would kill levelling up. Liz must dump the policy now,” before adding: “Those outside London do not deserve less with Liz. We’ve already got recruitment and retention concerns in our schools, hospitals etc.”
His sentiments were echoed by the Conservative Mayor of the Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, who said he was “Actually speechless.”
He added: “There is simply no way you can do this without a massive pay cut for 5.5m people including nurses, police officers and our armed forces outside London. So much that we’ve worked for in places like Teesside, would be undone.”
Hexham MP Guy Opperman pointed out he had objected to similar proposals suggested 10 years ago by the coalition Government. Mr Opperman, who has recently welcomed a new baby with his wife Flora Coleman, did not comment directly.
However, speaking in 2010 he said: “I see no economic argument for introducing regional pay. Our current pay system, which sets a base pay rate, already allows for adjustments in high cost areas like London.
“I am very concerned that regional pay would lead to a reduction in the pay packets of some public sector workers in the North East.”
However, other MPs in the region have remained tight-lipped on the proposed policy. Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison and Berwick’s Anne Marie Trevelyan have both been vocal in their support for Ms Truss as the new party leader – but have failed to respond to the Local Democracy Reporting Service’s request for comment.
Sedgefield MP Paul Howell, who is backing Rishi Sunak, also did not respond, nor did Blyth Valley MP Ian Levy – who is yet to reveal who he will be backing.