17:20 Friday 5th April 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: Thousands of civil servants across the country, some in Peterborough, have walked out for the start of a long weekend of industrial action. Unions say they’re defending their pay, pensions and work conditions. Well joining me now is Andy Reid from the Public and Commercial Services Union. Andy, hello to you.
ANDY REID: Hello.
CHRIS MANN: Who took part and why in this half-day strike in Peterborough today?
ANDY REID: Well today in Peterborough it was mostly our members in the Identity and Passport Service, and the DWP, the Jobcentre and Benefit Service, who will be followed on Monday by half-day action in the Revenue and Customs. And elsewhere in the country a whole load of other Government departments were out today, or will be out on Monday. Others will be out in the following week or two.
CHRIS MANN: Why do you feel this is necessary?
ANDY REID: It’s very much .. it’s a whole series of disputes with the Government on their policies, but the key issues are around pay and pensions. Most of our members are going into the third year of pay freezes or very tight pay caps. At the same time they’re having their pay reduced, deductions taken, called pension payments. But actually they’re not. Our pension scheme is not in deficit. It was only set up in 2006, 2007. And in fact our members are suffering already 15, 16% decline in the value of their pay, and we fundamentally disagree with the Government’s attitude that working people generally as well as public sector workers, should pay for the mess that the bankers have made of the economy.
CHRIS MANN: Well it’s not just the bankers of course. There’s a whole world wide recession going on. You’re in the public service there, so don’t you have to take the pain like the rest of us? Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there’s a pretty cold wind blowing through the economy and there has been for a long time.
ANDY REID: Well we would argue that it isn’t that. The Government policy doesn’t work. Even in their own terms it’s not setting the economy to rights. It’s actually digging it deeper in, as some of their own advisers say. A complete change of course is needed. Amongst other things, when we talk about the deficit, the truth is that if they funded public sector jobs properly, for example if they reinstated the 10,000 tax collectors whose jobs they cut, they could collect the £123 billion of outstanding and missing tax.
CHRIS MANN: You seem to have moved off the question I was asking. People in the private sector and elsewhere are finding it tough. Why should you in the public sector be any different?
ANDY REID: Oh no no. We argue that our interests are identical with people in the private sector. We actually have members in the private sector as well. But the point is that this government is attacking working people. It’s not a matter of private or public being set against each other. It’s a matter of working people against a small minority of very rich and very greedy people. In actual fact, if the look at the figures. you can see that the civil service, like other bits of the public sector, has actually been hit harder, because it’s easier for the Government to control it. The pay freeze has been absolute for two years. It’s now very very tight. And there’s a number of other attacks. But I think that’s a secondary issue. The main issue is that this policy will not set the economy to rights. It will actually make things worse. People have less to spend. Other people will lose their jobs because they won’t be able to provide services to those people. And that’s equally true whether it’s true of someone working in the public or the private sector.
CHRIS MANN: Ok. Let’s bring in Ed Murphy now, who’s a Labour councillor in Peterborough. Ed, hello to you.
ED MURPHY: Good afternoon.
CHRIS MANN: Do you support strike action like this?
ED MURPHY: I certainly support the strike action that’s happened today in Peterborough. We’ve got 1,000 people working as public servants, and they have had their pensions screwed over by the Government, they’ve had a wage freeze for a number of years. And quite clearly the message that’s coming from people who are paid relatively little politically is that the Government needs to put money in the pockets of the poorest in the country to get the economy going.
CHRIS MANN: You see, wasn’t it your government that left the economy in this mess? Shouldn’t we be blaming Labour?
ED MURPHY: The Labour government were moving forward and bringing down the deficit ..
CHRIS MANN: Oh come on. You’re not actually going to tell me that Gordon Brown left the country in a gay .. in a good state, are you?
ED MURPHY: .I’m very surprised at you to come out with boring Tory rhetoric.
CHRIS MANN: Excuse me?
ED MURPHY: We should be talking about the issues that happened today.
CHRIS MANN: I beg your pardon?
ED MURPHY: The debate about who ..
CHRIS MANN: Are you accusing me..? Excuse me. Wait a minute. Are you accusing me as the interviewer.
ED MURPHY: It’s done and dusted. We need to move forward, and we need to get people in work in Peterborough, so they can afford their mortgages, so they can afford to pay their rent. We need decent jobs for people in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.
CHRIS MANN: Well no-one’s denying that. But are you saying realistically that Gordon Brown’s government didn’t leave the economy in a mess?
ED MURPHY: The “mess” was an international capitalist crisis that hit the world. And actually Britain was doing rather well compared to other countries. It’s just Tory rhetoric, and I think the BBC should be concentrating on how we can improve things.
CHRIS MANN: The BBC is doing that. This whole interview’s about this, or have you not noticed that?
ED MURPHY: Good. Let’s talk about the issues that’s happening today, not about something that’s happened in Government years and years ago. I for one am well aware of the mistakes the Labour Party made, spending money on nuclear weapons etcetera etcetera.
CHRIS MANN: Why not ..
ED MURPHY: Let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk about what’s going to happen ..
CHRIS MANN: Well why not own up to them?
ED MURPHY: .. in the future.
CHRIS MANN: Well excuse me. When you’re discussing the economy, it’s not something that’s over in a fortnight, you know. Economic matters take years to have an impact.
ED MURPHY: I think ..
CHRIS MANN: And what you’re dealing with now is the impact of before. But let’s get back to the subject matter.
ED MURPHY: I think economists are quite clearly of the opinion that the Keynsian approach to get the economy going, cut Vat, cut taxes for poorer paid people, will get more people in work. It will do that. Not tax cuts for billionaires. That’s not going to help the general population in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.
CHRIS MANN: Ok. Ed Murphy, thank you for joining us.