Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has indicated he too will not be following recommendations on public sector pay rises, saying his party are set to “inherit a real mess” if they win the next general election.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has faced a backlash from opposition parties and unions after hinting he will not adopt proposals from pay review bodies for the coming year in a bid to tackle inflation.

Asked at a New Statesman event what his course of action would be, Mr Starmer did not answer the question, and instead pointed to the UK’s “really badly damaged economy”.

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Pay review bodies (PRBs) take evidence from across sectors like the NHS and education each year, as well as submissions from government, before saying what wage rises should be introduced across the public sector for the following 12 months.

The PRBs’ recommendations are expected to be published next month, alongside formal pay offers, with reports claiming the proposed figure could be around 6% for the health service and 6.5% for teachers.

Amid anger from unions about the numbers failing to match inflation last year, Health Secretary Steve Barclay insisted it was right for ministers to “continue to defer to that process to ensure decisions balance the needs of staff and the wider economy”.

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Asked for Labour’s position on PRB recommendations, Sir Keir said he understood there was “a real squeeze” on workers, saying their wages hadn’t gone up “in material terms” for 13 years.

He put the blame at the door of the Conservatives for their “failure to grow the economy and the additional damage that Liz Truss did”.

But Mr Starmer did not say he would accept PRB recommendations if he becomes prime minister, instead saying: “I am not going to hide from this.

“If we are privileged enough to come into power at the next election, and I hope we are so that we can serve our country, we are going to inherit a real mess, a really badly damaged economy.

“Public services that aren’t on their knees but on their face – the NHS in particular – and a sense that we have got to go at pace to try to repair, rebuild and run towards the future which is available for us as a country.

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Sunak hints at blocking pay rises

“And Rachel [Reeves – the shadow chancellor] has been clear that will require us to have strong fiscal rules which we are not going to break.

“But you know, we urgently need to get on with the task now of picking the country up, rebuilding and moving forwards.”

After numerous reports over the weekend and a raft of ministers refusing to commit to accepting the recommendations for the coming year, Mr Sunak hinted he might block them.

He told broadcasters on Monday: “I think everyone can see the economic context we are in, with inflation higher than we’d like it, and it is important in that context that the government makes the right and responsible decisions in things like public sector pay.

“I think people need to recognise the economic context we are in, and I am going to make the decisions that are the right ones for the country.

“That’s not always easy, people may not like that, but those are the right things for everybody, that we get a grip on inflation, and that means the government not excessively borrowing too much money and being responsible with public sector pay settlements.”