Liz Truss has scrapped her leadership pledge to cut public sector pay for workers outside of southeast England just 12 hours after she announced the plan.
At a leadership hustings event in Exeter, the Foreign Secretary announced she would end national salary deals and instead pay public sector workers differently depending on the region they work in.
She said the move would save £8.8 billion of taxpayers’ money and create a “leaner, more efficient, more focused Whitehall.”
But the South West Norfolk MP faced huge backlash from fellow Tories, many of whom argued it would mean lower pay for millions of workers outside of London - and warned that nurses, police officers, and teachers would be left poorer.
Ms Truss’ team has now said the proposal would not be taken forward, commenting that there had been “a wilful misrepresentation of our campaign.”
The team previously explained: “Current levels of public sector pay will absolutely be maintained.
“Anything to suggest otherwise is simply wrong.”
What has Liz Truss said about the change in policy?
Speaking to the BBC in Dorset, Ms Truss said: “I’m afraid that my policy on this has been misrepresented. I never had any intention of changing the terms and conditions of teachers and nurses.
“But what I want to be clear about is I will not be going ahead with the regional pay boards, that is no longer my policy.
“I’m being absolutely honest, I’m concerned that people were worried, unnecessarily worried about my policies and therefore I’m being clear that the regional pay boards will not be going ahead.”
Who criticised Ms Truss?
Ben Houchen, a Conservative mayor who has announced his support for Ms Truss’ rival Rishi Sunak, said he was “absolutely speechless” over the proposals.
He argued the policy would “undo” progress made in places such as his local Teesside, and told the BBC it would have been “catastrophic” at a general election.
Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay Steve Double, who is also an ally of Mr Sunak, added it would be "hugely damaging to public services in Cornwall".
Unions meanwhile told Ms Truss to expect “opposite every step of the way,” and the Labour Party said the plan was "a fantasy recipe for levelling down".
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner commented: “It will reduce the pay of Northerners, worsening the divide which already exists.”
A source from Mr Sunak’s campaign team criticised the Foreign Secretary’s U-turn, remarking: “This wasn’t a mistake.
“Liz wanted this in 2018 [when she was a senior minister for the Treasury].”
Who defended Ms Truss?
Jacob Rees-Mogg, Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, backed Ms Truss’ plans.
He explained: “Anyone who currently works for the civil service will remain on their current terms, but new people will be paid the market rate in the area in which they live - and that’s quite rightly taking care of taxpayers’ money.”
He added: “If the government is the highest payer, it then crowds out private sector investment."
What other plans did Ms Truss announce?
The Foreign Secretary proposed scrapping jobs aimed at increasing inclusion and diversity in the public sector, which her team estimates could save £12 million a year.
She also said she would save £137 milion by banning union representatives from getting paid time off to focus on union work.
Another change Ms Truss would make would be to reduce average civil service annual leave from 27 days to 25.
The Tory leadership candidate claimed at the hustings event that these changes, combined with the now scrapped end to civil servants’ national pay deals, would save taxpayers £11 billion.
She also said it would help tackle left-wing “groupthink” within the civil service.
At the same event, Mr Sunak criticised Ms Truss’ economic plans.
The former chancellor said: “I want to reform the corporate tax system.
“Liz Truss’s policies on corporate taxation are exactly the failed Treasury orthodoxy of the last 10 years, which hasn’t worked. I want to change it and grow the economy.”
The two candidates will continue to go head-to-head in leadership hustings events over the coming weeks, before the UK’s new Prime Minister is announced on 5 September.