Tory and Lib Dem MPs vote to support regional pay that will hit at least 88,000 NHS staff in South West


Former shop steward turned Conservative Health Minister Anna Soubry yesterday encouraged NHS trusts in their efforts to enforce regional pay.

The ex-journalist said the controversial South West cartel was taking a “mature approach” – and even accused unions of putting health jobs at risk.

She spoke out on the day coalition MPs voted down a Labour motion urging the Government to uphold the principle of national pay arrangements in the NHS.

There were two Commons debates on the issue, which began when 20 NHS trusts in the South West formed a cartel to opt out of national pay and conditions, paying £10,000 of taxpayers’ money each to business consultants.

In the first, in Westminster Hall, Exeter MP and former Labour Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said: “The organisations involved include the main hospitals in Exeter, Plymouth, Truro, Taunton, Yeovil, Poole, Bath, Bournemouth, Bristol, Gloucester and Salisbury. In total, more than 88,000 NHS staff in the South West are affected.”

Based on initial proposals, the unions, royal colleges and other bodies representing staff estimated that nurses and other NHS staff in the region could face a 15% pay cut, and changes to holiday and other entitlements.

Bradshaw said the cartel had threatened to sack and re-employ staff to force through its plans, and in 17 years as an MP he had never received as many letters and emails expressing anger and dismay as on this issue.

Soubry claimed to support national terms and conditions in the health service, but refused to accept trade unions calls to stop the South West cartel while the NHS Staff Council, a partnership of employers and unions, discusses changes.

“Experience suggests that that would be a battle of hope over experience. Negotiations in the current economic climate are not easy and they are not helped when some smaller unions have already declared that they will not support any change.

“They prefer to stick their head in the sand and put NHS organisations and their members’ job security at risk, rather than engaging in any meaningful way.”

Soubry added: “I used to be a shop steward and a member of the National Union of Journalists. I understand and value the role of good partnership working with staff and trade unions. I believe that the South West consortium is taking a mature approach.”

NHS bosses were best placed to assess whether national terms were fit for purpose, and knew what rates of pay were fair in their communities, she insisted.

Labour said that was a key development in government policy, and Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport Tory Oliver Colvile went further, saying bluntly: “The choice is simple: we either go for a variation on regional pay or we make people redundant.”

Some Tories and Liberal Democrats did have worries about regional pay, but were not prepared to vote against it in the main chamber later.

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said the breakaway movement had spread across the country, with another 12 trusts involved, including concerns five North East trusts were considering a second pay cartel.

“North Tees and Hartlepool have issued 5,452 staff with 90-day notices as a precursor to forcing them to sign new non-Agenda for Change contracts.

“Staff who refused to sign are threatened with the sack by March 2013 and now South Tees trust is considering a similar move.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt attempted to blame the unions, claiming: “Sadly it appears that the people who bankroll the party opposite, particularly Unite, would rather put their members’ jobs at risk than work with employers to find an acceptable solution to help the NHS meet its financial challenge.”

But Labour Blaydon MP David Anderson pointed out: “A large majority of the trade unions in the health service have no links to the Labour party whatsoever.”

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