Pay review bodies’ recommendations for public sector jobs should be respected by ministers, Michael Gove has said.
The environment secretary said that while ministers needed to reduce the deficit, they should also respect the “integrity” of the pay review process.
His comments come as the prime minister and chancellor face increasing pressure from ministers and backbenchers to end the current 1% public sector pay cap.
It follows demands within the party for an easing up of austerity.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, Mr Gove said: “You’ve got to listen to the public sector pay review bodies.
“When they made recommendations on school teachers’ pay, I think I always accepted them.
“My colleagues who deal with these pay review bodies would want to respect the integrity of that process.”
Pay rises for five million public sector workers are set by independent pay review bodies, but have effectively been capped at 1% since 2013, before which there was a two-year freeze on pay for all but the lowest-paid workers.
The Conservatives went into the election pledging to maintain the cap until 2020, but some MPs are now calling for a rethink after the party lost its majority.
Some pay review bodies are expected to call for pay rises that exceed the government’s cap.
The cabinet is split on the principle of scrapping the cap, but it could be dismantled bit by bit.
This month, two review bodies – dealing with the pay of police and teachers – will make recommendations.
Last year, the teachers’ body said there was a case for an increase above 1%, and the police body expressed concerns about low morale in the force.
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Privately, ministers believe it is perfectly possible that at least some of the pay review bodies – which also cover health service workers, prison officers and senior public servants – will call for average increases of more than 1%.
A government minister with good links to Downing Street told the BBC that review body recommendations would be honoured, even if this breaches the current pay cap.
But No 10 insists that ministers will decide whether to accept recommendations on a case-by-case basis.
So while the pay cap may not be abolished for every public sector employee all at once, it is possible that its erosion will begin soon.
Mr Gove’s interview coincides with reports in some of Sunday’s newspapers of a growing revolt within the Conservative Party over its approach to austerity and public spending.
The Observer says there is a “chorus of demands” from within the party for a radical overhaul of state funding, with cabinet ministers and senior MPs calling for more money for NHS workers and schools, as well as a “national debate” on tuition fees.
According to the paper, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Education Secretary Justine Greening are lobbying for an easing of austerity.
The paper says the pressure to abandon austerity puts Chancellor Philip Hammond under pressure to consider raising taxes to fund any extra public spending.
The Telegraph, meanwhile, reports that Ms Greening has told Prime Minister Theresa May she wants the government to abandon plans to cut per pupil funding over the coming years.
The paper says it is understood the education secretary wants a public statement within weeks outlining the change in direction so that schools know the funding they are to receive before they break up for the summer holidays.
According to the paper, the proposal would mean spending an extra 1.2bn by 2022.
The pressure to ease austerity has intensified since June’s general election, with a number of backbench MPs arguing that it cost the party votes and contributed to the loss of its majority.
On Saturday thousands of people gathered in central London for a demonstration against austerity that was addressed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
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