ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports on Liz Truss performing a U-turn on plans to cut civil service pay outside London after a furious backlash
The Tory leadership frontrunner had initially planned to pay workers in cheaper regions less than their counterparts in London and the south-east, but a little over 12 hours after making the major announcement she abandoned the policy.
A spokeswoman for the Foreign Secretary’s campaign claimed there had been “wilful misrepresentation” of the proposal amid growing blue-on-blue attacks, but made clear they would be dropping it and instead maintaining current levels of pay for nurses, police officers and teachers.
Ms Truss said her policy had been "misinterpreted" and she had "no intention to affect teachers and nurses".
Truss: My policy has been misrepresented
"I don't want people to be concerned, so I'm being very clear, we will not be going ahead with the regional pay board...I'm being honest that there were concerns expressed," she added.
"I believe my policy was being misinterpreted, I want to be clear with the public, that I will not be going ahead with the regional pay boards. I'm somebody who is honest and up front and I do what I say I will do and I'm being clear I will not be doing that."Previously a release issued by the foreign secretary's team, said a "Truss government will introduce Regional Pay Boards so pay accurately reflects where civil servants work."
"Truss’s government could save billions a year by replacing National Pay Boards with Regional Pay Boards. This will make it easier to adjust officials’ pay, ensuring it accurately reflects where they work and stops the crowding out of local businesses that can not compete with public sector pay," the proposal had stated.
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Conservative Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, who is backing Rishi Sunak, had said he had been left “actually speechless” by Ms Truss’s pitch to party members choosing the next prime minister.
He said before the U-turn: "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.
"Liz Truss's campaign is explicit that their savings target is only possible 'if the system were to be adopted for all public sector workers.'
"This is a ticking time bomb set by team Truss that will explode ahead of the next general election."
Steve Double, the Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay, said the “terrible idea” would be “hugely damaging to public services in Cornwall, where we already struggle to recruit NHS staff”.
“The billions saved would be coming straight out of rural economies. This is levelling down not up,” he said as he vowed to vote for Mr Sunak.
North West Durham MP Richard Holden, another supporter of the former chancellor, said Ms Truss’s policy would “kill levelling up”.
Simon Hoare, the Sunak backer who chairs the Commons Northern Ireland Committee, said it is a “totally bad initiative” that would result in “levelling down”.
Ms Truss, widely seen as the frontrunner to take over in No 10, had announced the move on Monday night as part of a “war on Whitehall waste” to make savings from the Civil Service.
But Rishi Sunak’s rival campaign argued that the plan would slash the pay of nearly six million public sector workers, with nurses, police and armed forces members facing £1,500 of cuts.
Announcing the U-turn, Ms Truss’s 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.”