Minister defends pounds 17,000 pay rises for Cabinet

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The Government yesterday defended its decision to go ahead with plans to increase Cabinet salaries from April while curbing public sector pay for people such as nurses and teachers.

After the election, Cabinet ministers agreed to postpone their pay rise for a year - when they are due to get an increase of pounds 17,209, or 19.6 per cent, taking them to pounds 105,060

A Government source said yesterday that any comparison between nurses and ministers was "invidious", and Stephen Byers, Minister for Education, said extra money was being made available for education, to be spent on recruiting more teachers, books and equipment.

Referring to a comment made by teachers' leader Nigel de Gruchy, Mr Byers said: "It's disappointing that the first thing a general secretary of a teacher union does is threaten that they're going to go on strike, when in fact we've had the first tranche of new money coming into the education service for many a year."

He told GMTV's Sunday Programme that more than pounds 1bn extra was being pumped into education over the next two years. He said the Department for Education and Employment had already submitted evidence to the pay review body, "that there should be a new category of teacher called the advanced skills teachers".

This would provide targeted rewards for the best teachers in the system, to keep them in the profession and to stop them moving out of the classroom and into administration.

"They can dedicate themselves to improving the quality of education our children receive by excellent classroom teaching," Mr Byers said.

"What we're saying is that there is new money for education. We're going to dedicate that to employ more teachers, to provide better books and equipment and improve the environment in our schools. That's the real world.

"That's what parents want. They would say, `why pay double-figure increases for teachers?', which is what the unions have submitted. And you know, most teachers would recognise that's the reality as well."

The fact that Labour ministers are to stand by the Tory government's public sector spending targets - along with its pay restraint - was well publicised by Labour during the election campaign, and generated union criticism at the time.

The Senior Salaries Review Body recommended big pay rises for MPs and ministers in July last year, and they were passed by a Commons vote, to take effect the day after the 1 May election.

The Cabinet agreed not to take the rise immediately, holding it back until next year. The Prime Minister's salary remains at pounds 102,417, rather than the pounds 145,860 that had been recommended before the election.

Nigel Evans, a Conservative front-bench spokesman, said yesterday: "The ministers' pay rise is the clearest example yet of Labour rank hypocrisy. They must believe the British people have the memories of goldfish.

"Only 12 months ago they were attacking business fat cats, and yet now they accept 20 per cent pay rises at the same time as they tell nurses they can only have 3 per cent. Their noses are so far into the trough that you barely see the soles of their feet."