Rise 'could have been met in full from reserves'

14th February 1997 at 00:00
The Government could easily have afforded to have paid teachers their 3.3 per cent pay rise in full from April by dipping into a Pounds 2.5 billion reserve fund, according to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.

Phasing the award, with 2 per cent paid in April and the rest in December, will save it Pounds 100 million but cost teachers between Pounds 10 and Pounds 15 a month and in reality will make the award worth 2.4 per cent over the year.

Public spending plans show there will be a Pounds 2.5 billion reserve - unallocated money - this year, which is set to double by April 1998.

Chris Trinder, chief economist at the CIPFA, said it was dishonest to claim money was not available for teachers' pay.

He said the precedent for using reserves for pay rises has already been set and that all ministers needed was Pounds 100 million to give the 478,000 teachers the 3.3 per cent award.

The Government raided the fund three times in the 1980s for nurses and turned to it again for teachers in 1991, the first year the School Teachers' Review Body reported.

"In the run-up to an election there is always the danger of the Government using it for political purposes as it did in 1992 for community care in marginal constituencies," said Mr Trinder.

"But using it for teachers' pay would have given a fresh slate to a new Parliament."

Phasing the award will present problems for Labour if it wins the election, as it would add around 0.5 per cent to the pay bill for teachers in 1998.

Labour has pledged to stick to Government spending targets, and in spite of an outcry by public sector unions has said it would not seek to reverse the phasing of the awards if it is elected to govern.

Pay review body reports covering the armed services and doctors and dentists joined the chorus of criticism over pay awards being phased. The one governing nurses said affordability was not its main determining factor.

The STRB was noticeably quiet on phasing, and Mr Trinder said: "I think it has just fudged the issue. Its report was one of the weakest we have seen for long time."

Teacher unions claimed the phasing of the award would place teachers in financial difficulties and said staff had been cheated by the Prime Minister's refusal to fund the award.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "His refusal to implement this small increase in full means that each month experienced teachers will be robbed of Pounds 15 from the salary recommending by the review body. Newly qualified teachers will lose Pounds 10."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said phasing would undermine the independence of the pay review body particularly if it became habit.

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