'Mediterranean holiday' jibe during Northamptonshire public sector pay debate was not 'offensive', says councillor

Councillor Andy Mercer has hit back at the criticism of his "Meditteranean holiday" comments.
Councillor Andy Mercer has hit back at the criticism of his "Meditteranean holiday" comments.

An embattled Tory Councillor has defended his suggestion that an extra "Mediterranean holiday" for public sector workers in Northamptonshire was less important than helping the "poorest in society".

The comments made at last Monday's full council meeting by Rushden South member Councillor Andy Mercer caused an uproar during a debate on lifting the pay cap for some 47,000 public sector workers in the county.

The motion called on the council’s chief executive Paul Blantern to write to chancellor Philip Hammond and call for an end to the cap for all workers - not just those in the emergency services.

Councillor Mercer's suggestion that the pay rise could be spent on an extra "Meditteranean holiday" a year was later branded "ludicrous" by union leaders in the county afterwards.

But the Conservative says he was cut off midway through his speech at the meeting.

He says he would have gone on to suggest trying to suggest Labour should be focusing on promoing tax breaks for the poorest in society, rather than just public sector workers.

"My concern is we should be not focussing our attention on the most vulnerable in society rather than the people in the middle," he said. "The people at risk of jail for not paying their taxes, many of whom I have helped."

"That Labour motion did not do that.

"There is a developing process where people shout down anything they don't agree with."

However today, opposition member Councillor Gareth Eales (Lab, Dallington and Spencer) has written to the council leader Councillor Heather Smith to demand she "distance herself" from the comments, which he said were "deeply offensive".

The letter states: "Public sector workers, including your staff, are struggling to make ends meet and have seen their pay slashed significantly over the last seven years.

"Councillor Mercer’s comments are therefore deeply offensive and I feel will only further damage staff morale, which I know from the committee’s I sit and discussions
I am privy to, that is absolutely the case irrespective of any denials to the contrary."

For Councillor Mercer to imply that the calling for the lifting of the public sector pay cap was simply to afford public sector workers a second Mediterranean holiday, as they are not “really suffering” is preposterous and demonstrates how out of touch that individual is."