The Conservatives are "hollowing out" the public sector by "desperately" underpaying state workers, according to Mark Reckless. The Ukip economics spokesman and policy chief launched the scathing attack against his old party in an exclusive interview with IBTimes UK moments after announcing a major new policy.
Reckless, who failed to retain the Rochester and Strood at the general election, said Ukip would scrap its policy to abolish inheritance tax and instead fund the estimated savings of leaving the EU on increasing the pay of nurses, firefighters and other public sector staff.
The Eurosceptic said a Ukip administration would use more than £5bn ($7.6bn) of a so-called "Brexit dividend" on breaking the government's 1% pay freeze on state workers and raise the remuneration to either 2% of the course of the rest of the parliament or a one-off bumper 5% rise.
But Reckless stressed Ukip would keep George Osborne's 1% cap on public sector staff earning more than £50,000 a year. The policy reform comes after the chancellor raised the inheritance tax threshold above £1m after the Tories secured a shock majority in the House of Commons at the general election.
"The inheritance tax abolition is very expensive and, to a degree, the government's reforms have taken the heat out of the issue," Reckless told IBTimes UK. "We would prefer to put our fire power into the much larger number of people in the public sector, some of whom have relatively low incomes, who won't have had a pay rise for a decade if this government's policy continues."
The Ukip policy head explained he supported the government's cap over the course of the coalition government. But on the back of private sector pay growth, he is worried the public sector pay may fall well behind.
"I don't think that makes sense – it's an attack on anyone who works in the public sector, it's hollowing out the public sector in areas where the state should be doing stuff," Reckless argued. "I'm not in favour of desperately underpaying people who remain within the state area. It will become so out of kilter it's just the right thing to do."
Shift to the left?
The policy will certainly prick the ears of Westminster watchers who have witnessed Ukip move away from its traditional libertarian-right base on some policy areas, particularly as the party seeks to make further gains in the north of England and win seats at the Welsh Assembly elections in 2016.
Reckless's comments come after Nigel Farage's keynote address at the Ukip annual conference in Doncaster. The party's leader attacked big business and singled out Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson in his speech. But Reckless stressed the party is talking to businesses of all sizes ahead of the EU referendum, which will come before the end of 2017.
"We are speaking to businesses of all sizes and the discussion that we have with them is 'you need to apply single market rules when you are exporting to the EU, but why should also impose excessive rules around the domestic economy or exports that are going outside of the EU?'," the spokesman said.
"[A Brexit] is the opportunity to free ourselves of so many rules that we just don't really need or aren't sensible for our domestic economy. Perspectives between large and small businesses can be different because large businesses can find it easier to pay for the compliance and regulation than small businesses do.
"And some large businesses, not all large businesses, benefit and actually try to use the system in order to protect themselves from incoming competition from small companies or people who would like change how their business is done."