The blackest arts of propaganda are those which take time and trouble to massage public opinion to make the indefensible seem inevitable. It's a cold-hearted process needing careful planning and well-orchestrated execution. And we in the Westcountry are looking down both barrels of it and not believing what we're seeing. Yes, once more I'm talking about the outrageous notion of regional pay.
Here's the official case for. In regions of low average rates of pay, public sector jobs should be paid at similarly low rates rather than on a national pay scale, on the theory that national pay scales somehow compete unfairly with local private employers for the available talent, forcing them to pay more than they otherwise would in order to recruit their staff.
I've stated this with gritted teeth in the name of journalistic balance, but it should be clear to anyone with a brain that it's a lot of specious rubbish. If public sector wages dropped in the west would there be a flood of new jobs at sustainable rates to make up the difference? Of course there wouldn't. The only result would be the fulfilment of the Government's dreams, to smash national wage rates and to score huge savings in the regions they've impoverished. And happy employers paying the minimum wage whatever the job.
The Government has been convening focus groups for the past year to examine the different public sector jobs, knowing perfectly well what answer they're supposed to reach. Now the publicity campaign has begun, and a learned London professor appeared on the Today programme last week to support it. She insisted, naturally, that saving money was not the object. She even informed the nation – as a bright new idea – that if wages were lower you could afford to employ more people! – a familiar principle to companies who outsource their work to desperately poor countries for that very reason.
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It's no joke. Public sector wages are really all that stand between our region, especially Cornwall, and absolute depression. If those funds are drained from our area too what will happen to the shops, restaurants, small businesses and public services which are already struggling on the edge? Does the Government imagine that because our wages are low the costs of our housing, fuel, food, travel, etc are any less? Can they imagine who would choose to be employed in a low-wage ghetto when they could earn more for the same work somewhere else? How can we expect our children to stay in an area where aspirations are doomed by official decree? And if the principle holds that workers should receive the same pay for the same work irrespective of age, gender or race, why should they be penalised because of geography?
It's a truly insulting, amoral idea. Instead of offering badly-needed investment they'd prefer to institutionalise our poverty, stigmatise our region as somewhere not worth decent living wages, and declare it an official economic sinkhole.
We simply mustn't let them get away with it.