Politics: Prescott hints Cabinet may give pay rises to charity

John Prescott has fuelled speculation that Cabinet ministers may donate their pounds 16,000 pay rises to charity. Colin Brown says the controver sy threatens to spill over into the public sector pay round.
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The Cabinet may hand the bulk of its pounds 16,000 pay rises to charity in order to defuse the anger among unions representing 1.3 million public sector workers who are being told to accept another year of pay freeze.

John Prescott said yesterday that the Cabinet had agreed to follow Tony Blair in forgoing their pay rises of pounds 16,000 recommended by the senior salaries review body but there was an "argument - a discussion" - about how to deal with the pay rises, which had been approved by Parliament.

"There may well be a point of view that perhaps the pay rises could go to some form of charity. It's a judgement that we can make that doesn't effect the thrust of the policy that has been put forward by the Prime Minister and endorsed. My job is to find that out," he said on BBC Television's On the Record.

John Redwood, the shadow trade spokesman, accused the Cabinet of "confusion and chaos" over its pay rises, and said it would be impossible to check on private donations to charity by Cabinet ministers.

"If they want pay restraint in the public sector, it should apply to them too. They should be prepared to forgo the money," he said.

Cabinet ministers were clearly embarrassed at the way it has been handled. "Least said, soonest mended," said one Cabinet source. Harriet Harman, the Secretary of State for Social Security, said on GMTV: "I'm taking the same position as everybody else in the Cabinet which is we're forgoing the bulk of the increase that was due to us and John Prescott, with a group of Cabinet ministers, is talking about how we deal with the practicalities of it."

Jack Cunningham, Minister of Agriculture, said on the same programme: "I share Harriet's view that we must have unity in the Cabinet on this."

But a branch of Unison, the public sector workers' union, was threatening a mass lobby of next week's Labour conference in Brighton to protest at alleged failures to deal with the poor and low paid. "Things are getting worse, not better," said Candy Udwin, secretary of the union's branch at the University College Hospital, London.