Clegg: Private sector needs to take the pain too

By Ian Dunt

Nick Clegg tried to reassure public sector workers they would not be doing "all the heavy lifting", with the promise of proposals to tackle executive pay next month.

The Liberal Democrat leader, who will be mindful of the number of public sector voters among his party's traditional base following a week of strikes and recriminations, said he was prepared to bring forward legislation to tackle executive pay if necessary.

"We now need to call time on excessive irresponsible behaviour in the private sector," he told the Andrew Marr programme.

"Just as we got tough on unaffordable things in the public sectors, we need to get tough on executive salaries in the private sector."

Mr Clegg braded a recent report outlining 50% rises in executive pay "a real slap in the face".

He added: "What I abhor is them being paid bucket-loads of cash when they're failing.

"We need to make sure people in the public sector don't feel they're doing all the heavy lifting.

"If legislation is required of course we will do so."

The government appears to have adopted most of the recommendations in the recent High Pay Commission report, which included plans to open up remuneration committees, put a company worker on each one, give shareholders a binding say on salaries, introduce a ratio on top executive pay and impose greater transparency.

The comments mark a significant shift away from George Osborne, who seemed to have given up on public sector votes this week when he added a new freeze on public sector wages in the autumn statement – just a day before workers went on strike for their pensions.

The chancellor also confirmed the state pension age will rise from 66 to 67 from 2026 onwards – considerably earlier than planned.

Along with cuts to employees' rights and health and safety laws, the statement surprised many observers by how sharply it veered to the right.

Mr Clegg admitted this morning that "it has been a very tough week" but insisted he was pushing inside government to protect the poorest during times of austerity.

"I make no apology at all for us making difficult choices, but prioritising the poorest," he said.

In a subtle dig at Tory backbenchers, many of whom have spent the week highlighting the perceived injustice of private sector workers paying for the pensions of public sector workers who already enjoy more generous salaries, Mr Clegg argued against false divides between British workers.

"It's important to the country we don't divide – it's not public versus private, north versus south, employer versus employee," he said.

The consultation on executive pay will end before Christmas, with proposals coming forward early next year.