Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Clegg Places Himself on the Right Side of Britain's Great Divide; Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Clegg Places Himself on the Right Side of Britain's Great Divide; Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Linford

WHEN the history of David Cameron's government comes to be written, the Budget delivered by Chancellor George Osborne on March 21 may well be seen as a decisive turning point in its fortunes.

Whether it was the pasty tax, the granny tax, the tax on charitable giving or the abolition of the 50p rate, those looking for something to criticise in the Chancellor's package found plenty to choose from.

But of all the measures announced by Mr Osborne two months ago, surely the most pernicious as far as this region is concerned was the proposal to introduce regional pay rates - paying teachers and other public sector staff in Newcastle less than people doing the same jobs in London.

Far from seeing the prosperity gap between richer and poorer regions as an evil which needs to be addressed, the idea of regional pay takes such inequality as an incontrovertible fact of life and then threatens to institutionalise it throughout the entire British economy.

Despite the efforts of some North East MPs and union leaders, the proposal has received little national attention up until now, demonstrating once again the London-centricity of our national media.

But that may be about to change. For the question of regional pay now appears to be playing into the much wider political narrative concerning the longer-term future of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition.

In what can only be seen as a shot across Mr Osborne's bows, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg warned this week that his party could not sign up to a policy that would exacerbate the North-South divide.

It seems that regional pay has now joined the growing list of issues, alongside Europe, House of Lords reform and Rupert Murdoch, where the two parts of the coalition are singing from increasingly varying hymn sheets.

Speaking to the National Education Trust in London Mr Clegg said: "Nothing has been decided and I feel very, very strongly as an MP in South Yorkshire, with a lot of people in public services, we are not going to be able simply willy-nilly to exacerbate a North-South divide. "I think people should be reassured we are not going to rush headlong in imposing a system from above which if it was done in the way sometimes described would be totally unjust because it would penalise some of the people working in some of the most difficult areas. …

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