The hon. Gentleman represents a Government who have cut the funds to councils in the north of England more than ever in history. Those cuts were front-loaded and we still have not seen the end of them, so he is not in any position to tell people on the Opposition Benches about the way that councils operate.
My hon. Friend Phil Wilson made the point that public sector jobs help to create private sector jobs. Indeed, there is research suggesting that every pound spent on public sector pay generates up to £1.50 elsewhere in the economy. When we consider the implications of regional pay, I start to see it as yet another way for the Government to make matters worse, not better, in the areas that need the most help. It will encourage staff, when choosing where to work, to go to the better-off areas and spend their money in places that have fared rather better in the recession.
I am sure Ministers take an evidence-based approach to their policies, so where is the evidence that a more fragmented system would be more efficient? A national negotiating system means a structured set of negotiations and a co-ordinated approach across regions. What, I wonder, is the analysis by Treasury Ministers of the cost of multiple pay review bodies at a local level? I wonder whether Ministers had made those calculations before they made their commitment in the autumn statement. It seems to me that we would see a complex and bureaucratic process for setting local pay that would take time and resources away from delivering vital public services.
If regional pay is introduced, it will mean lower pay in the north-west. In answer to Ian Swales, 40,000 jobs have already gone in the north-west as a result of cuts in the public sector. The north-west has seen twice the national average in cuts in jobs in the public sector, and any measure that cuts pay in the north-west will depress the economy and hit the living standards not just of the staff who lose pay but of the businesses that rely on them and of the people who work in those businesses too.
Lower pay for poorer regions will make it harder to attract the best staff and to keep them. It will mean less money for the staff and their families in already poor areas, and it will take more money out of the hardest hit local economies. As we have seen, the increased bureaucracy will mean higher costs.
The Government point to a gap between public and private sector pay, but the reality is that cutting public sector pay will make it easier for private sector employers, too, to cut pay in order to maintain the differential. In fact, the removal of money from the economy would put pressure on some private employers to do just that because of the depressing effect it would have on the economy. The Government say they want to rebalance the economy. If pay is cut in the poorest parts of the country for lower-paid and part-time public sector workers, many of whom have already lost their tax credits, the economy will be rebalanced all right, but not in a good way. It will be rebalanced so that it is further away from a fair and equal distribution than ever.
The Government should have nothing to do with regional pay. They should continue to work with the staff who do a good job serving our communities up and down the country. They should support those staff to ensure that they can continue to deliver excellent services, not undermine them by sapping their morale with such crazy suggestions.