The severity of proposed cuts to the public sector could be reduced as a result of the hung parliament, according to a leading academic.
Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, said the results of last night’s election might see some of the more radical changes proposed by the Conservatives watered down.
The Tories have won the most seats in the 2010 general election, but their failure to secure an overall majority has led to Britain’s first hung Parliament since 1974.
This leaves key policy pledges in doubt, such as the Conservatives’ commitment to deliver £12bn in public sector efficiency savings over the next year. Within this total, the Tories previously said that £1bn-£2bn of the savings planned for 2010-11 could be made by reducing the use of agency staff and not filling vacant posts, while £2bn to £4bn could come through cuts in IT spending.
The plans immediately came under fire from unions, who estimated the Tory plans could place between 20,000 and 40,000 public sector posts at risk.
“[The Conservatives] may choose not to move forward because they don’t want the controversy of having those policies opposed,” said Jones. “No one will be able to push through controversial policies at the pace they want to.”
But Jones admitted that the “axe is about to fall”, regardless of which party or parties come to power. “The question is how quickly and how ferociously.”
A Tory minority government would push for a one-year pay freeze for public sector employees in 2011, excluding those earning less than £18,000.
If Labour forms a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, pay increases for public sector employees would likely be capped. Labour proposed a 1% cap on increases for 2011-12 and 2012-13 and the Lib Dems proposed a £400 cap on increases initially for two years.
“My view is that there is enough of an affiliation between Labour and the Lib Dems for them to work together to produce a coherent government – that would be the ideal, as they tend to be more supportive of social care,” said Jones.
A spokesperson for Unison, which represents 40,000 social workers across the UK, added: “A Tory minority government would still go ahead with plans to cut faster and deeper, hitting public spending and public services harder than the Lib-Lab alternative.”