The Liberal Democrats have voted overwhelmingly to adopt a policy opposing local pay in the public sector, in a move expected to put new pressure on employers considering breaking away from national deals.

The vote, which took place yesterday, at the party’s annual conference in Brighton, approved a motion calling on the government to rule out any further expansion of regional or local pay. The motion also expressed concern that regional pay could damage local economies and undermine public services.

Southport MP John Pugh, who co chairs the party’s parliamentary committee on health and social care, said flexibilities already existed in the Agenda for Change pay system, and in the form of the London weighting and performance related pay.

Regional pay would “further alienate the public sector workforce,” he said, and would “sacrifice the principle of equal pay for equal work.”

Mr Pugh said: “For some people the market is a sort of god – not a tool, not a human construct, or something that can be regulated or principled, used or not… it’s a god that cannot be resisted, whose omnipotence and benevolence is not in doubt. It’s not just an ideology we’re dealing with – it’s unreasoned and outmoded idolatry.

“We see business and public services as both good, but different – and regional pay as having little relevance to either.”

Jon Restell, chief executive of Managers In Partnership, said: “Allied to the work unions are doing locally, this adds pressure on those employers contemplating breaking away from national pay bargaining arrangements.”

Howard Catton, head of policy for the Royal College of Nursing, acknowledged that senior Liberal Democrats had already expressed opposition to local pay, and attempts to break away from national deals in the south west were being conducted within existing agreements.

He told HSJ: “We are certain that if we continue down this route we are likely to see further deteriorating in the industrial relations climate. This motion is likely to create some political turbulence too.”

One well placed Liberal Democrat source said the party would like to see local public sector pay ruled out altogether, and pointed out that party leader Nick Clegg and business secretary Vince Cable have already publicly opposed local deals.