No pay freeze for MPs as salaries rise by 1.5 per cent

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The salary handed to MPs is to top £65,000 for the first time next month when they will be awarded a 1.5 per cent pay rise.

Despite millions of public workers facing pay freezes or redundancy as a result of the economic crisis, a new deal will see the earnings of members of the Commons rise from £64,766 to £65,737 from 1 April. The increase has been recommended by the body that oversees the salaries of senior public figures.

The decision is sure to enrage many. MPs were collectively forced to pay back more than £1m to the Treasury in the wake of the expenses scandal that engulfed Westminster last summer. It also comes at a time when all the main parties have attempted to tackle the budget deficit by clamping down on pay rises in the public sector.

Some politicians were already attacking the rise as a suicidal move last night, describing it as a measure sure to reignite public anger. The Senior Salaries Review Body concluded that the 1.5 per cent pay rise was warranted after analysing the increases enjoyed by 15 other groups of public-sector workers. It is lower than the increase of 2.33 per cent enjoyed by MPs last year.

Bill Cockburn, the chair of the review body, revealed the controversial pay increase in a letter to the Commons Speaker, John Bercow. The recommendation came as part of its annual review of public-sector salaries.

It is unlikely that the deal will be opposed as the notification to the Speaker was merely a formality. Since 2008, the increases recommended by the independent body have been applied automatically after rules were introduced blocking MPs from voting through their own salary rises.

News of the rise comes as political parties compete with each other to take the toughest line on keeping the public-sector wage bill under control. The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, has announced a one-year pay freeze for the top civil servants, including GPs and chief executives of publicly funded quangos. Other public-sector workers are set to receive very small pay rises of between zero and one per cent. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, has also backed a pay freeze.

George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, has promised even tougher measures. He used his keynote Tory party conference speech last year to announce that he would impose a one-year pay freeze for all public workers earning more than £18,000 in 2011, should his party form the next government. This would affect around four million workers.

Unions reacted angrily to the pay increase. Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said it was not right for MPs to pocket an increase while much lower paid public workers had been handed a pay freeze. "It does not seem right that MPs can get a 1.5 per cent pay increase, worth £1,000 a year on basic pay, when low-paid workers such as teaching assistants, school dinner ladies, social care workers, road sweepers will get nothing, because their pay is being frozen," he said.

In the future, MPs' pay will be controlled by the organisation set up to oversee the new expenses system.

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