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Has Nick got it right on paying our squaddies more?

By Mark Littlewood
September 2nd, 2009 at 5:53 pm | 5 Comments | Posted in Economics, UK Politics

soldierHot on the heels of his call to cut waste in the public sector, Nick Clegg reckons he can find the cash for a £6,000 pay hike for junior military personnel by getting rid of 10,000 MoD desk jobs (I don’t know if the calculations assume these paper-pushers would claim welfare benefit or whether they would immediately find alternative gainful employment).

The argument goes that privates in the line of duty should expect a salary on a par with junior cops and firemen. And (putting aside the argument that these guys shouldn’t be out there anyway) £17 grand a year for getting shot at in Iraq and Afghanistan seems like pretty paltry compensation.

It’s certainly an eye-catching initiative, but the present catastrophic state of public finances means that simply switching money from “wasteful” areas to  “frontline” areas is not a luxury that the next government is likely to be able to afford. Overall cuts are going to be needed, not just elegant spending shuffles.

There’s a good case to be made that we pay firemen too much – certainly the number of new applications handsomely outstrip the number of  vacancies.

And if we are going to go through the public sector payroll seeking to push salaries upwards to meet some criterion of fairness, then we need to brace ourselves for an unaffordable and inflationary wage explosion.

Bus drivers are paid about £25,000 a year compared to tube drivers who rake in about £40,000, despite the fact that the former job is considerably more skilled and onerous. But the problem isn’t that we pay bus drivers too little – it’s that we pay tube drivers too much.

I like the sentiments behind Nick’s new policy. But at some point, we need to accept the logic that public spending needs to go down overall. That means clever cuts in one area will NOT mean increases in another.

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