Unions calls talks ‘bitterly disappointing’ and an ‘insult’ despite health secretary accepting no end to strikes without higher pay – live


Unite accuses Barclay of ‘insult’ after suggestion one-off extra payment would have to be linked to productivity increase

Unite, one of the unions involved in talks with Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has described what was put on the table this morning as an “insult” to members.

Unite is one of several unions that represent ambulance workers, and Onay Kasab, its national lead officer, told reporters that the talks had gone “not well” after he emerged from his meeting with Barclay. He went on:

Unfortunately, the government have missed yet another opportunity to put this right. We came here in good faith. What they want to talk about is productivity.

Our members are working 18-hour shifts. How you become more productive with that I do not know.

Today, unfortunately, despite us showing up in good faith, the government have missed yet another opportunity to put this right and what will happen is that a strike action taking place by Unite members, our ambulance workers … [will be taking place on 23 January].

Asked if Barclay had mentioned the possibility of a one-off payment for health staff for the current financial year, Kasab said the union was told that, to justify a payment like this, workers would have to come up with productivity savings. He went on:

That is absolutely ludicrous. This isn’t a factory we’re talking about.

We are talking about people who are working well beyond their contracted hours anyway just to get the job done, because they can’t hand patients over because they care so much.

So for the government to be talking about productivity in return for a [payment] is an insult to every single one of our members.

You all know what’s going on in hospitals at the moment. You all know how hard everybody is working. So today is an insult to our members.

BREAKING: Onay Kasab, lead national officer for Unite, says the government “have missed another opportunity” to avoid further strike action and calls talks with the health secretary today an “insult”.

More here: https://t.co/EZGzR3NnYT

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— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 9, 2023

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Ambulance strike to go ahead as GMB says talks failed to achieve ‘anything substantial’

The GMB is the third major union representing ambulance staff, and it has also issued a downbeat assessment of the talks with Steve Barclay, the health secretary. Rachel Harrison, the GMB national secretary, said:

Today’s talks fell well short of anything substantial that could stop this week’s strikes.

There was some engagement on pay – but not a concrete offer that could help resolve this dispute and make significant progress on the recruitment and retention crisis.

The public expects the government to treat these talks seriously – it’s time they got on with it.

The GMB also said more than 10,000 ambulance staff would go ahead with its strike on Wednesday. Unison ambulance workers are also on strike that day.

According to ITV’s Paul Brand, a GMB spokesperson has been even more critical, describing the time set aside for the meeting as “an insult” (a description also used by Unite, although in a slightly different context – see 12.46pm).

GMB Spokesperson on pay talks:

“Just 45 minutes to talk with the workforce. That tells you all you need to know about the Government’s attitude to resolving this dispute and finding solutions for our NHS. It’s an insult to staff and the public.”

— Paul Brand (@PaulBrandITV) January 9, 2023

Royal College of Nursing says meeting with health secretary about strikes ‘bitterly disappointing’

The Royal College of Nursing has described its meeting with Steve Barclay, the health secretary, as “bitterly disappointing”. In a statement Joanne Galbraith-Marten, the RCN’s director of employment relations and legal services, said:

There is no resolution to our dispute yet in sight. Today’s meeting was bitterly disappointing – nothing for the current year and repeating that ‘the budget is already set’ for next year.

This intransigence is letting patients down. Ministers have a distance to travel to avert next week’s nurse strike.

Barclay accepts strikes will not be resolved unless health workers offered high pay this year, Unison says

Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton, said that the meeting with Steve Barclay, the health secretary, did not produce any “tangible” concessions and that her union would not be calling off its strike by ambulance staff later this week.

But Gorton was also more positive about the meeting than her Unite opposite number, Onay Kasab. (See 12.46pm.) She said it was a “very civil meeting” and that they were talking about pay, which was “definitely progress”.

She also said that Barclay accepted that health workers would have to be offered more pay as part of the settlement for this year, 2022-23. Until recently ministers were arguing that this year’s pay deal was closed, and that any compromise would have to focus on what was on offer for next year.

Asked if they were talking about pay for the current financial year, she said:

The secretary of state is very, very clear that resolving this dispute means not just talking about pay for the next period but actually pay for the current year. So very clear that resolving the dispute will take boosting pay ahead of 1 April.

Gorton also said that Barclay asked the unions him to help him make the case to the Treasury for health getting more investment. “We’ll certainly do that,” she said.

Asked whether she felt Barclay was on the side of the unions, she replied:

You might interpret that. I mean, it was very clear that what is needed in order to resolve the dispute is investment.

The Treasury is in the position to unblock that, so I guess the message today is to put pressure back on the chancellor and the prime minister to say the dispute is resolvable.

Sara Gorton speaking to the media after her talks with Steve Barclay this morning.
Sara Gorton speaking to the media after her talks with Steve Barclay this morning. Photograph: Daniel Leal/AFP/Getty Images

Train drivers’ union leader plays down prospect of progress after talks at transport department

The strike talks at the Department for Transport do not seem to have gone well either. As PA Media reports, Mick Whelan, the general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef, held his arms out in a wide shrugging gesture as he left the DfT building in central London, indicating that talks with ministers had not gone well.

When asked by PA whether any progress had been made in the ongoing pay dispute, Whelan said: “I’ve got nothing to say.”

Pressed again about how negotiations had gone by Sky reporters, he added: “I’m not going to make any comment today.”

Whelan was meeting Huw Merriman, the rail minister. At health and education, the unions were meeting the secretary of state (Steve Barclay and Gillian Keegan respectively).

Mick Whelan (left) photographed as he arrived at the DfT for talks this morning.
Mick Whelan (left) photographed as he arrived at the DfT for talks this morning. Photograph: James Manning/PA

This is from my colleague Pippa Crerar on the Unite take on its meeting with Steve Barclay, the health secretary. (See 12.46pm.)

Unison, GMB & RCN – who were all at meeting and represent majority of NHS workers – yet to comment.

But if Unite is right on link to more productivity, it’s remarkably tone deaf of ministers. They may be referring to NHS system, rather than staff, but will go down badly even so.

— Pippa Crerar (@PippaCrerar) January 9, 2023

Unite accuses Barclay of ‘insult’ after suggestion one-off extra payment would have to be linked to productivity increase

Unite, one of the unions involved in talks with Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has described what was put on the table this morning as an “insult” to members.

Unite is one of several unions that represent ambulance workers, and Onay Kasab, its national lead officer, told reporters that the talks had gone “not well” after he emerged from his meeting with Barclay. He went on:

Unfortunately, the government have missed yet another opportunity to put this right. We came here in good faith. What they want to talk about is productivity.

Our members are working 18-hour shifts. How you become more productive with that I do not know.

Today, unfortunately, despite us showing up in good faith, the government have missed yet another opportunity to put this right and what will happen is that a strike action taking place by Unite members, our ambulance workers … [will be taking place on 23 January].

Asked if Barclay had mentioned the possibility of a one-off payment for health staff for the current financial year, Kasab said the union was told that, to justify a payment like this, workers would have to come up with productivity savings. He went on:

That is absolutely ludicrous. This isn’t a factory we’re talking about.

We are talking about people who are working well beyond their contracted hours anyway just to get the job done, because they can’t hand patients over because they care so much.

So for the government to be talking about productivity in return for a [payment] is an insult to every single one of our members.

You all know what’s going on in hospitals at the moment. You all know how hard everybody is working. So today is an insult to our members.

BREAKING: Onay Kasab, lead national officer for Unite, says the government “have missed another opportunity” to avoid further strike action and calls talks with the health secretary today an “insult”.

More here: https://t.co/EZGzR3NnYT

📺 Sky 501, Virgin 602, Freeview 233 pic.twitter.com/ktNP5j9z33

— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 9, 2023

Teaching union leader says strike talks with Gillian Keegan will fail without ‘new money on table’

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), told journalists that the government had to put “new money on the table” as she arrived at the Department for Education for talks with Gillian Keegan, the education secretary.

Without the offer of new money, the talks would be pointless, Bousted suggested. She said:

She is going to tell us about the government’s evidence about the pay review body – which isn’t actually independent – and then she’s going to listen to our concerns, so this is in no sense a negotiation meeting.

If this meeting is going to have any outcome, then Gillian Keegan has to tell us if there is new money on the table for an increase in the pay offer this year.

Bousted added that the scheduled hour-long meeting is “not sufficient for the problem that we face” and she has “never seen teachers so angry” about “12 years of neglect of state education”.

When asked whether she was hopeful that a resolution can be reached in time to avoid strike action, Bousted said: “Where there’s life there’s hope – let’s hope that the government recognise that after ignoring us for three months – and in fact longer than that – that they really need to speak to us and I hope we can resolve this.”

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), arriving at the Department for Education for talks with Gillian Keegan this morning.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), arriving at the Department for Education for talks with Gillian Keegan this morning. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The NEU is balloting its members on strike action, with the ballot closing on Friday and the results due to be announced a week today. If the strike goes ahead, state schools in England and Wales could close for several days in February and March.

Kevin Courtney, the other joint general secretary of the NEU, said the union was confident that support for the strike vote would be the strongest it had seen.

Company with no website or staff has donated £345,000 to Labour MPs, investigation reveals

Rishi Sunak has described transparency about the donations given to MPs as “really important” for democracy. He was speaking in response to a question prompted by a Sky News investigation showing that a mysterious company, with no staff or website, has donated more than £300,000 to three Labour MPs since the general election.

In their Sky report, Sam Coates and Ed Clowes report:

MPM Connect Ltd is the third-biggest donor to MPs since the last general election. The only organisations that have given more to individual politicians in that period are the trade union giants Unite and GMB.

The company has no staff or website and is registered at an office where the secretary says she has never heard of them.

The £345,217 of donations that MPM Connect has made since the end of 2019 went to three Labour politicians.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has received £184,317, former mayor of South Yorkshire Dan Jarvis £100,000 and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting £60,900.

In his pooled TV interview Sunak said “transparency is really important for the healthy functioning of democracy”. Asked if MPs should be receiving six-figure sums, he replied:

And that’s why we have a set of rules and regulations in place to provide that transparency for people. And it’s important that those rules are adhered to.

The Sky report does not suggest that any of the MPs it features have broken rules. But it does imply that the disclosure regulations are not sufficient to ensure that people have a good understanding of who is funding MPs.

Sky has broadcast its revelations to publicise a new database, Westminster Accounts, that it has set up with Tortoise Media to provide information about who funds MPs. It is based on information which is already in the public domain but which can be hard to find. Westminster Accounts is intended to make it much more accessible. There is an explanation of the project here, and you can search the database here.

Sturgeon says Scottish government to pay for extra beds in care homes to free up space in hospitals

Last night Steve Barclay, the health secretary, announced that the UK government wiould spend £200m paying for extra beds in care homes and other settings so that hospitals can discharge patients more quickly. This should have an impact on the A&E crisis because the shortage of hospital beds is probably the main reason why so many patients are having to wait hours in ambulances before they can be properly admitted to hospital.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is giving a press conference in Edinburgh, and she has just announced a broadly similar policy. These are from the BBC’s James Cook.

At a news conference in Edinburgh First Minister @NicolaSturgeon says this is undoubtedly the most difficult winter the NHS has ever faced, adding that the service was under pressure even before Covid. https://t.co/6lEl2PvnjC

— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) January 9, 2023

Ms Sturgeon says the NHS is dealing with an extraordinary level of winter flu, with 1,000 flu patients being admitted per week.

— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) January 9, 2023

There will be additional funding to book more care home beds to free up capacity in hospitals says the FM.

— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) January 9, 2023

NHS is available for those who need it but many patients could consider using NHS 24 website, app and call centre says Ms Sturgeon. She asks people with symptoms of cold, flu or Covid to stay at home, and to wear a mask if they must go out.

— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) January 9, 2023

Does FM agree with BMA that A&E is unsafe? Won’t criticise any health care staff at expressing concerns she says, and accepts there are pressures, but insists the NHS is there safely for those who need it and that patients get an excellent standard of care.

— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) January 9, 2023

I don’t believe the NHS is unsustainable in its current form but it does need to adapt, change and reform says @NicolaSturgeon.

— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) January 9, 2023

Rishi Sunak listening to Donna Pereira as he meets with a multi-disciplinary team who provide virtual care during a visit to the Rutland Lodge Healthcare Centre in Leeds this morning.
Rishi Sunak listening to Donna Pereira as he meets with a multi-disciplinary team who provide virtual care during a visit to the Rutland Lodge Healthcare Centre in Leeds this morning. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

Sunak sums up his asylum promise as being to ‘stop the boats’

Rishi Sunak also insisted in his pooled TV interview that the government was focused on “the people’s priorities”. Referring to the promises he announced last week, he

What the government is getting on with is delivering on the people’s priorities. I set out five priorities, five promises I wanted to make to the country – that’s to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, reduce waiting lists, and stop the boats. That’s squarely what everyone in government is focused on.

Sunak also used this shorthand account of his promises on Twitter last week, and in his ConservativeHome article, and that means that is now the settled summary of what he is pledging. It is significant because a promise to legislate with the intention of stopping small boat Channel crossings has become a commitment to “stop the boats”.

While experts believe Sunak can achieve the first four quite easily, very few commentators believe he will “stop the boats”.

(Perhaps he is assuming that the public will view the tests as a GSCE exam, and that four out of five will qualify as a good pass.)

Sunak refuses to say whether he thinks today’s talks could led to next week’s nurses’ strike being averted

In his pooled broadcast interview Rishi Sunak was asked if he accepted that the talks happening today would not be able to avert the nurses’ strike scheduled for next week. He sidestepped the question, and just said that it was good that the talks were happening.

Earlier Patricia Marquis, director for England at the Royal College of Nursing, said that even though the talks were taking place, it was “unlikely” that they would result in the strike would be called off. (See 10.19am.)

This is what Rishi Sunak said in his pooled broadcast interview this morning when asked about reports the government was considering a one-off payment to nurses. Asked if one-off payments could be offered to workers in other sectors too, he replied:

We’ve always said the government is happy to talk about pay demands, pay issues, that are anchored in what’s reasonable, what’s responsible, what’s affordable for the country, but the most important thing is those talks are happening. Let’s try and sit down and find a way through.

Asked again to confirm that a one-off payment was on the table, he replied:

You wouldn’t you would expect me to comment on specifics, but the most important thing is that the conversations are happening … with regard to pay.

Asked to clarify whether ministers would talk about the current, 2022-23 pay offer in the talks with unions today (which is what the unions want), or whether the talks would just cover the settlement for the next financial year (originally the government’s intention – it has said it will not reopen the current pay offer), Sunak dodged the question. He just said that people could be reassured that dialogue was happening, and he repeated his point about the need for a pay settlement to be affordable. He added:

The talks are happening, that’s a good, positive sign, and the most important thing is we let those talks carry on.

Sunak does not deny reports No 10 considering one-off payment to end nurses strike

BBC News is broadcasting an interview with Rishi Sunak.

Asked if the government is proposing a one-off payment to nurses, Sunak does not deny that. “You would not expect me to comment on specifics,” he says.

He says the government wants to be reasonable. It is important to keep talking.

Q: What did you mean yesterday when you said the pay talks would cover pay for this year? (It was not clear if Sunak was talking about pay settlement for the 2023-24 financial year, or the 2022-23 financial year.)

Sunak sidesteps the question.

It was my colleague Pippa Crerar who reported overnight that the government was considering a one-off payment for nurses as a means of ending the strike.

I will post more from the Sunak interview shortly.

Rishi Sunak being interviewed this morning.
Rishi Sunak being interviewed this morning. Photograph: BBC News

Linking future pay rises to NHS efficiency reforms shows ‘misunderstanding’ of state of NHS, says RCN

In her Sky News interview Patricia Marquis, director for England at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said she was alarmed by suggestions from government that future pay increases for nurses could be linked to efficiency reforms. She said that made her “very, very worried”. She explained:

It shows a level of misunderstanding of the situation the NHS and nursing is in at the moment.

There aren’t enough staff to deliver the care that needs to be delivered and there isn’t enough funding in the NHS.

Of course, there’s always some sort of efficiencies that can be made but it really does sound like what they’re trying to do is get … the NHS to fund its own pay award and we don’t think that’s possible. We really think this needs to be extra money that is clearly earmarked for for nursing pay.

RCN official says it is ‘unlikely’ today’s talks will lead to strike later this month being called off

Patricia Marquis, director for England at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), told Sky News this morning that she thought it was “unlikely” that the talks with the government taking place today would lead to the planned nurses’s strike for later this month being called off.

Asked about the chances of the strike being called off, she told Sky News:

At the moment, it feels unlikely but we’ll see what today brings in those conversations with Steve Barclay.

If there are chinks of hope, if there are further meetings, then I and my colleagues will all maintain optimism that we can get a resolution without nurses having to be on the picket lines again later this month.

Asked if she would be the chances of a resolution at 50/50, she replied:

I don’t think it is 50/50, but there is some hope and we maintain that hope.

Rishi Sunak has used an article for ConservativeHome to argue that, in making the fight against inflation a priority, he is acting as a Thatcherite. Last week ConservativeHome ran an article by Lord Cruddas and David Campbell Bannerman, the two leaders of the Conservative Democratic Organisation, a new pro-Boris Johnson organisation campaigning for party members to get more control of party affairs, complaining that there are too many MPs in the party “who are not genuine Conservatives”.

In his article, Sunak seems anxious to insist that that’s not him. Referring to his stance on inflation and debt, he says:

As Conservatives we know that the most fundamental of all foundations for a better future, for growth and for opportunity is sound money and a stable economy. The public has always trusted us with that task, but that trust is earnt not given. As it was for Margaret Thatcher when she became prime minister, my prime economic objective is to defeat inflation and so my first promise is to halve inflation this year. We must all remember her dictum: ‘No policy which puts at risk the defeat of inflation – however great its short-term attraction – can be right.

We also need to reduce our country’s debt. As a Conservative and as a father, I care about what we leave behind for our children. At the moment debt is too high and there is nothing Conservative about writing cheques for our children and children’s children to pick up after we are gone.

In the article, Sunak also defends the five promises he unveiled last week, insists that the government wants to resolve the public sector strikes “in a responsible and reasonable way”, but defends his plan for anti-strike legislation.

Junior doctors very likely to vote for strike, says BMA, as ministers hold meetings with health, education and rail unions

Good morning. There are various meetings taking place today between ministers and union leaders representing workers in health, education and the rail industry after Rishi Sunak called last week for both sides to get around the table. This is quite a shift from the pre-Christmas position when ministers insisted it was up to management negotiators to take the lead in talks with unions. At the end of last week it was not clear whether this was mainly a presentational ploy (Sunak wants the government to be seen as “reasonable’”), or whether significant concessions might be in the pipeline, but yesterday, as my colleague Pippa Crerar reports, Sunak hinted it was the latter in his start-of-year interview with Laura Kuenssberg.

But it is quite possible that the strike crisis could get worse before it gets better. The British Medical Association is from today balloting 45,000 junior doctors in England on strike action and, if they vote in favour, a 72-hour strike is planned from March. This morning Dr Emma Runswick, the BMA’s deputy chair, told Sky News that the chances of a strike were “very high”. She explained:

[Health secretary] Steve Barclay’s planning to meet with us on Wednesday but only to discuss a very narrow set of things. He’s talking about the evidence that the government will submit to the pay review body. Unfortunately, they’ve already submitted their remit letter to the pay review body telling us and them that we only should receive 2% next year.

So, that’s another massive pay cut after we’ve had a pay cut this year, and for the previous 15 years. Again, another pay cut on top of the quarter pay cut we’ve already received, so I’m not optimistic … about the meetings, though we will go and we will negotiate if that is an available option to us.

Asked to confirm junior doctors were looking for a 26% pay rise, Runswick said:

We’re asking for the reversal of that pay cut [over the last 15 years]. So, mathematically, it might even be more and if we have another pay cut this year, it’ll be more again. So, we’re only asking for what we’ve had cut from us back.

Runswick also said she had a colleague who had gone to work in Australia where “she’s doing fewer hours than I am and she’s earning 1.7 times as much”.

We should be hearing again from Sunak this morning. Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Rishi Sunak is doing a health-related visit in Yorkshire.

11am: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, holds a press conference on the situation in the NHS.

11.30pm: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

Lunchtime: James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, and Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, hold a meeting at Lancaster House with Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice-president who is in charge of Brexit-related negotiations on behalf of the EU.

After 3.30pm: Steve Barclay, the health secretary, is expected to make a statement to MPs about extra funding for social care beds. A Treasury minister is also expected to make a statement about the extension of the energy support package for businesses.

Also today, health, education and transport ministers are holding talks with unions about what might resolve the strikes.

I’ll try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at [email protected].





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