I'd like to say a big thank you to all those public sector workers who carried on serving the people of Croydon today.
I understand how angry many public servants feel about having their pay frozen and changes proposed to their pensions to help deal with a debt problem that they didn't cause.
But even if we hadn't inherited this debt problem, we would still need to make changes to public sector pensions. We are all living longer - the average 60 year-old today can expect to live 10 years longer than the average 60 year-old in the 1970s - which is great news, but it means that if public sector workers want to enjoy just as generous pensions when they retire as their predecessors do today they need to contribute more while they are working and/or work longer, otherwise the taxpayer will end up picking up the tab. Public sector pensions currently cost taxpayers £32 billion a year - more than we spend on the police, prisons and the court system combined - and that's increased by a third after discounting for inflation over the last 10 years. There's a basic question of fairness here - people who work in the private sector are having to contribute more to their pensions and work longer; you can't also ask them to pay more in tax so that public sector workers can retire earlier than them and contribute a lower proportion of their salaries.
And the fact that we have inherited a debt problem - the last Government was spending about £150,000,000,000 a year it didn't have, money our children will have to pay back - makes this problem even more urgent than it already was.
So given there is a strong case for change, negotiations are ongoing, the Government has recently made a more generous offer, the economy is struggling and the public could have done without the disruption, I think it was wrong for union leaders to call today's strike.
And I am concerned that many of their members who have contacted me don't seem to be aware of the details of the Government's offer and in some cases appear to have been misled:
• Public sector workers will still have guaranteed, inflation proofed pensions. Only 1 in 10 private sector workers have access to such schemes.
• Most will see no reduction in the size of the pension they receive when they retire and many low and middle income earners will receive larger pensions.
• Those on a full-time equivalent salary of less than £15,000 a year will not have to make an increased contribution and those on a full-time equivalent salary of between £15,000 and £21,000 a year will only face a small increase.
• The pensions people have built up so far will be protected.
• No-one within ten years of retirement will see any change either in the age when they can start receiving their pension or in the amount of pension they will receive.
• Many public sector workers have been told their scheme is in surplus and hence there is no need for them to pay more in. But in most cases there is no scheme - the contributions paid by existing employees are used to pay other people's pensions rather than being invested for the future.
• A Croydon Labour councillor was on Twitter today alleging that most of the extra contributions people are being asked to pay will be used to bail out the banks. That is completely untrue.
The two sides need to get round a table and resolve this dispute so that the public don't have to put up with any more disruption.