Let me join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend Stephen Morgan on his maiden speech. He was able to demonstrate what Parliament is at its very best, when members of communities come here to give a voice to those communities. It was a fantastic speech.
I also pay tribute to the members of our Front Bench for the fight that they have put up today, and, indeed, before today. They have ensured that the case has been made—for instance, when representatives of the Royal College of Nursing were across the road campaigning for the cap to be scrapped.
There is no doubt that we are still in very difficult times. The economy has not grown in the way that people intended; despite the setting of repeated targets, every one of them has been missed, and tax revenues have not been coming in. But, of course, there is always money for priorities, and this situation comes down to that question of priorities. Is the Government’s priority to give money to the wealthiest through corporation tax cuts and personal tax advantages, or is it to establish a foundation of decent public services? Collectively we know that if we are to achieve the type of society that we want, grassroots investment is vital.
Tomorrow is quite an important day for our country. It will be a decade since the financial crisis began, and queues of Northern Rock customers were forming at the cash machines. Now, our doctors and nurses are experiencing a real-terms pay cut. That is where the axe has fallen. Let us consider the Royal Bank of Scotland, a majority public institution, 73% of which is owned by the taxpayer. Last year it made a £2 billion loss. Let us forget the casino banking that brought our country to its financial knees. A majority publicly owned bank in which the Government had a significant interest, and which had made a £2 billion loss, managed to pay £17 million worth of bonuses. Where is the pay restraint when it matters? It is OK to be tough when that means talking down our doctors, nurses and other public sector workers. Where is that toughness when it comes to sticking it to the banks? The people who caused the financial crisis in 2010 have been allowed to get away with it, and the stress and the strain have fallen on our public sector workers.
The NHS does not sit in isolation. It is part of a very delicate public service ecosystem. It relies on other public sector agencies to be strong, robust and well resourced to ensure that that pressure is managed. In the north-west, more than 100,000 workers have been taken away from our local authorities and other public sector bodies, which means that there is more pressure on the NHS to deal with matters that ought to be dealt with in the community. Social services departments are under such strain that some are nearly falling over, but rather than dealing with that by paying people a decent amount for a hard day’s work, the Government seem to want to put their fingers in their ears, hum to themselves, and believe that everything is OK.
I am not fooled, and I do not believe that Conservative Back Benchers are fooled. When they stand up to defend their Government, there is a veneer of support because they have to toe the party line, but they know—they absolutely know—the real impact that their Government are having. [Interruption.] That is the truth. Listen: I know my feelings about the NHS, and they are not just about words. This is about action, about deeds, and about showing genuine support.
We are sent here to represent our constituents. Can any Conservative Members tell me how continuing to suppress the pay of hard-working public sector workers is to the benefit of any one of their constituents, when at the same time a publicly owned bank is getting away with paying £17 million in bonuses? Let them tell me where the pay restraint is when it really comes to it. Words are one thing, but facts—evidence—another thing entirely.
This comes down to stark choices. The choice on our side means having decent public services there when they are needed. The choice on the other side means sticking up for the rich at the cost of public services.