I AM writing this column prior to the debate on public sector pay which took place on Monday.

It is a petitions committee debate which I was leading.

My postbag has been full with letters and e-mails from constituents who have been affected by the government’s policy.

All those who work in the public sector, doing vital jobs like policing, working in our NHS or cleaning our streets and emptying the bins, have had their pay held down since 2011/12.

The government imposed a two year pay freeze on the public sector, followed by four years where the pay bill was capped at a one per cent increase.

They then introduced another four year pay cap to run to 2020.

Not everyone has received even a one per cent increase because the government made it clear that the money was first to be used to address recruitment and retention pressures.

What this means in practice is that the public sector workers have lost between £2,000 to £3,000 in real terms because their wages have not even kept up with inflation and, for the first time since the 1990s, public sector pay is lagging behind pay in the private sector.

This policy is not only damaging for the individuals concerned but it has had a disastrous impact on our regional economy.

An estimated £3.7 billion has been lost to the north west economy, money which would have supported local jobs and businesses especially in retail and hospitality.

So we have ended up with a situation where some nurses and other staff have had to use food banks and yet the whole economy is losing out.

When the government tries to make a distinction between public sector workers and ‘taxpayers’ it needs to remember that public sector workers pay tax too, when it talks about cutting the country’s debt, it should remember that debt has gone up, not down during the period of pay restraint.

That is why, for the sake of those people on whom we all depend, and for the sake of our regional economy, I’ll be arguing for the government to lift the pay cap.

As this is my last column of the year, may I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.