It has been well trailed in the media that today sometime Humza Yousaf will meet the health unions, including the GMB and the RCN who have voted for strike action in the New Year. Since, according to Yousaf himself, there is no more money what can he do except move the payments around in a way more to the liking of the unions. However, bearing in mind that RCN claim for 19% it’s hard to see what their chosen direction would be other than upwardly. And, there’s no more money.
Why is there no more money? Well, first of all the Scottish Government have done their bit by settling with other public sector unions, so even with the flexibility of devolution and not to mention the “union dividend”, money is tight.
However, I want to draw to your attention another reason – no settlement at Westminster. There, the Health Minister, Steve Barclay, is doing his bit to cement his reputation as a “hard man” by refusing to negotiate with the health unions, sticking to the recommendation of the NHs pay review body.
Their last report was in July this year, though normally it would have been February but the timetable has been another victim of Covid, though the intention is to return to February reports. However, while the report came out in July last year, the data collection began in July the previous year (ie 2020) before the cost of energy kicked the roof off. Perhaps, bearing in mind what has happened with inflation particularly in the second half of this year, the Pay Review Body might have reconsidered? Of course, we will never know.
As stewartb pointed out in a piece just a couple of days ago (https://talkingupscotlandtwo.com/2022/12/21/nursing-strikes-how-scottish-and-welsh-labour-operate-from-different-planets/), quoting Drakeford that “his government could have raised taxes or redirected money from its own budget to increase nurses’ pay. But he argued that would have “meant fewer treatments, fewer nurses, less money for the health service”.” Why? Because quoting Drakeford again, “It is simply the truth that the amount of money we get for public services and pay in Wales is a consequence of the decisions that English Minister make for England”.
But do we not need to query whether everyone is so constrained. We know that the Scottish Government is in the same position as the Welsh Government. But we also know that the Westminster Government, and thus Steve Barclay, are not in this position for they control a sovereign currency and are able to borrow. Instead of monstering nurses and ambulance drivers, Westminster could seek a solution and borrow to make up the difference. Barclay’s decision not to do so, is a political one – to appear to be facing up to unions making unreasonable demands, no matter which ones it might be. Nurses are hardly the miners of 1984 any more than Pat Cullen is Arthur Scargill. It appears the Westminster government is prepared to take chances with the health of the British public – and you can bet your life who will be in the frame when folk start dying. “My mum would be alive just now if it weren’t for these strikers”.
However, there is another dimension to this – budget consequentials. If Barclay were to concede then spending in the English NHS would increase, and this should trigger more money for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Put simply, the UK government is forcing governments in Edinburgh and Cardiff to come along with them in this adventure because they literally have to and cannot afford to do much else.
As above, it’s hard to see what Yousaf can say to the unions that is going to make a practical difference, but let’s try to remember that Barclay’s inactivity has considerable responsibility, at least in the degrees of freedom that Yousaf might have.