Tory’s ‘Mediterranean holiday’ jibe at public sector workers in Northamptonshire slammed by opposition and unions

Councillor Andy Mercer's suggestion the plight of private sector workers was more important than allowing public sector staff an extra holiday abroad a year drew gasps at County Hall.
Councillor Andy Mercer's suggestion the plight of private sector workers was more important than allowing public sector staff an extra holiday abroad a year drew gasps at County Hall.

A Tory councillor who suggested public sector workers would spend a pay rise on an “extra holiday in the Mediterranean a year” was branded as out-of-touch by opposition members.

Cllr Andrew Mercer’s bizarre rant at the Northamptonshire County Council full meeting this week forced the chairman to call for order several times.

Councillor Chris Stanbra.

Councillor Chris Stanbra.

The Conservative member for Rushden South was responding to a debate on lifting the pay cap for all 47,000 of Northamptonshire’s public sector workers.

The motion called on the council’s chief executive Paul Blantern to write to chancellor Philip Hammond to call for an end to the cap for all workers - not just those in the emergency services.

Proposer Cllr Chris Stanbra (Lib Dem, Oakley) said: “Let’s do the right thing; let’s stand up for the thousands of public sector workers affected by this.

“It’s right for the sustainability of public services here in Northamptonshire and it’s right for the economy.

“Even here at the county council we have staff subject to the cap.”

Prominent Tories such as Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove have been reported as supporting an end to the pay cap.

But the motion was voted down by the Conservative majority at County Hall, many of whom said a blanket rise for all 47,000 or so workers in the county would be unsustainable.

However, Cllr Mercer’s response drew gasps from the meeting chamber.

Afte describing how many of his constituents – not just the public sector workers – were facing financial hardship and the risk of imprisonment for not paying their taxes, he added: “I think we ought to have a bit of balance here.

“I think having the ability to go on an extra holiday in the Mediterranean is a lot less harmful than going to jail.

“And frankly I have not seen any emotion from that side of the chamber about the people who are suffering because they can’t pay their bills who are not public sector workers.”

Unison branch secretary Penny Smith said the claim that pay rises would be spent on foreign holidays was “ludicrous” and “offensive”, adding that most workers would use any rise just to “make ends meet”.

Cllr Eileen Hales (Lab, Windmill) told the meeting: “All he [Cllr Stanbra] is asking for is a letter - it might pre-empt what is in the budget.

“But what is one letter, that’s all we are asking for.”

She added: “For God’s sake, support it or abstain.

“But to say anyone is not worthy of a pay rise in this day and age is appalling.”

The motion was voted down by the controlling Conservative group.

Speaking after the meeting Cllr Stanbra said: “After seven years of enforced pay restraint forward-working public sector employees this was their opportunity to show some support for local people and to take a lead in bringing the public sector pay cap to an end.

“They chose not to do so. Instead they opted to stick with a pay cap that has been in place for far too long.”