Shirking Responsibility

Ask nine out of ten people, and they'll tell you that things like the health service and education are completely devolved to Wales. But that isn't really true. There are many aspects of the twenty devolved areas that are not devolved, and the pay and conditions of employment for teachers is one of them.

Yet when Nerys Evans said that setting our teachers' pay and terms of employment should be a matter for us in Wales, it provoked a rather strange response from Leighton Andrews, who described it as a "shocking admission".

The first thing to say is that it's hardly an admission. In case he or anyone else hasn't realized it yet, Plaid Cymru want to see decisions that effect only Wales being made in Wales ... and following the referendum, we know that about two thirds of voters in Wales agree with us on that.

But the shock is not so much what Plaid want, but what Leighton Andrews said in reply to the suggestion by Rex Phillips of the NASUWT that it would result in lower pay for teachers in Wales:

Mr Andrews said the implications were incredibly serious and put Plaid at odds with the teaching profession.

"The First Minister and I have ruled out the devolution of pay and conditions for this very reason, we do not want to see an exodus of Wales' best teachers to England," he added.

There'll only be an exodus of the best teachers to England if we decide to pay our teachers less or give them otherwise inferior terms of employment. Leighton Andrews is clearly saying that if things were left to him to decide (at least as one of the parties at the negotiating table) he would pay Welsh teachers less than their English counterparts. But why? The amount of money available to pay teachers in Wales comes partly from Council Tax, but mostly from the Welsh government's block grant. Wales will get the same money (based on the amount given towards education and all other departmental spending in England) irrespective of how the Welsh government chooses to share it out in Wales. Teachers will only get less if the Welsh government decides there are more important things it wants to spend the money on instead.

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Now I fully accept that the same argument doesn't apply where public sector workers are paid directly by the UK government. Tax collectors, passport office workers (what few might be left) and the like should be paid the same, for if such workers were paid less in Wales, it would mean less money coming into Wales. Yet this is what is beginning to happen, and not just because the Tories and LibDems are now in power in Westminster. Back in 2008, it was a Labour government that introduced regional pay for those working in the Courts Service, with staff in Wales taking the hit, as we can read here:

     Ludicrous' regional pay attacked - BBC, 13 July 2008

To his credit, Dai Havard spoke out against it, warning that it would be the thin end of the wedge ... but his intervention made a fat lot of difference. His own government did it anyway and, as we can read in these two reports, the Tories and LibDems are now set to finish the job:

     Calls for regional pay in public sector - BBC, 16 June 2010
     Civil servants face regional pay threat - Financial Times, 5 July 2010

Leighton Andrews has got it completely the wrong way round. The way things are going, all public sector employees in Wales are likely to be paid less for doing the same job than their counterparts in the richer parts of England. So devolving teachers' pay and conditions to Wales is in fact the best way of making sure that we pay our teachers what we think they deserve.

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If anybody is concerned about what might happen with teachers, all we need do is look at what's happened in the past with other professions. Here are two examples of what devolved responsibility for setting pay and conditions has actually meant in practice:

•  In March 2007, the nurses pay review body recommended a 2.5% pay increase. As we can read here, the Scottish government decided to implement it in full, and the Welsh government then did the same. But the Westminster government decided that nurses in England would not get the rise until November.

•  Then in December of the same year, as we can read here, the Police Arbitration Tribunal recommended that all police in the UK should have a 2.5% pay rise, backdated to 1 September. The UK government decided to ignore that recommendation and only backdate it to 1 December, but the Scottish government went along with the recommendation. Thus, for the first time, police officers in Scotland got a different pay settlement from the rest of the UK.

So why is Labour scaremongering? If we elect the right government, devolving this responsibility will be a way of protecting teachers' pay and conditions, not something to be afraid of. We don't have to reinvent the wheel either, for if we look at what happens in Scotland, we will see that teachers' pay and conditions are negotiated through the SNCT, a tripartite body comprising members from teaching organisations, local authorities and the Scottish government. We can set up something similar for Wales.

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After the referendum Carwyn Jones said that Wales "has now come of age". Coming of age means that we can and should take this responsibility. Yet it seems as if Labour would much prefer to shirk it, perhaps because they want to be able to play the victim card when the UK government introduces regional pay for all public servants; or perhaps because the Labour party would, if left to their own devices, make the same decision ... but want to point the finger of blame at anyone other than themselves.

Vote accordingly.

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7 comments:

Anonymous said...

hmmm I wouldn't pay our teachers more after the PISA results + 7 weeks summer holidays this year! How is a working family meant to look after their kids for 7 weeks in the summer & all the other holidays and inevitable sickness which occurs during the year?

M

Simon Dyda said...

Great post and very informative, unlike the BBC report I saw on the story.

Naturiaethwr said...

Even if teachers were to be paid less in Wales that wouldn't necessarily mean an exodus. One of the reasons - not the only one - that people are paid more to work in London is effectively to compensate them for having to work/live in a grotty part of the UK (the London Assembly hints at this in paragraph 5.26 of this report: legacy.london.gov.uk/assembly/reports/econsd/lonweight.pdf). I wouldn't move to England for a higher salary to do the same job (but then I'm not a teacher).

Anonymous said...

The higher salaries are paid in London because the cost of housing is higher. The cost of housing is higher in London....because the salaries are erm.....higher.

Welsh Ramblings said...

The BBC report on this was a shocker. Once we got teachers pay and conditions they would be devolved more or less permanently, that is to say forever, so taking a short-termist view based only on the PISA results doesn't make any sense.

Anonymous said...

If Plaid have their way they will extend the pupil contact time of teachers by one and a half hours every day leaving little time for marking, preparation and staff meetings / training. They seem to blame teacher unions for any failure or perceived failure in the education system. I hope that teachers' pay and conditions are not devolved and that the middle classes of PC do not use teachers as 'whipping boys and girls' for all of society's ills.

Anonymous said...

Teacher pay and conditions set UK wide from NTPC.
Education funding devolved to Wales by Barnett on basis of spend in England.
Wales school Education funding £600 per pupil less.
Is it any wonder that Education in Welsh schools is in crisis when 80% of the budget is for Salaries and on costs and the school devolved budget to pay them is 20% less due to constant and increasing syphoning off by the WAG of funds destined for schools?

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