The government has indicated it expects to take the “same approach” to deciding pay increases for NHS staff in 2015-16 as it did this year.
It has also told the independent body that recommends pay increases for nurses and other NHS staff that its advice will not be needed next year, sparking warnings of its imminent demise from unions.
In a letter to the NHS Pay Review Body, chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander reiterated the government’s decision not to implement the advisory group’s recommendation of a blanket 1% pay rise this year.
“The NHS Pay Review Body will not be asked to make recommendations… in the 2015 pay round”
He said that, after “careful consideration”, the government had deemed the review body’s recommendation as “unaffordable at this time” – but hoped the group appreciated that it was a “difficult decision”.
Instead, all staff in England not eligible for an incremental pay rise will receive a 1% non-consolidated basic pay rise in 2014-15, but those due an increment will not.
“It is our intention to take the same approach in 2015-16,” Mr Alexander said. “As a result, the NHS Pay Review Body will not be asked to make recommendations on a pay award for Agenda for Change staff in the 2015 pay round.”
Mr Alexander went on to criticise the health unions for not being prepared to negotiate an “affordable alternative”, but added that he “greatly valued” the contribution that the public sector pay review bodies played in determining national pay awards.
The letter forms the latest move in the government’s increasingly tough stance on NHS pay, which began in March when ministers ignored the review body’s latest recommendations and led last month to four unions announcing dates for ballots on industrial action.
“The government is being deliberately provocative”
Unison called the latter a “slap in the face to NHS staff”, adding that it was a “provocative” move ahead of the ballots, some of which are due to begin later this month and some in September.
Christina McAnea, Unison’s head of health, said: “The government is going ahead and denying the vast majority [of NHS staff] a pay rise – not just for this year, but for next year too.”
“The Pay Review Body has kept the industrial peace for many years and by ignoring it this year and casting it aside for next, the government is being deliberately provocative,” she said.
“We are willing to sit down and settle the dispute, but there cannot be any pre-conditions for talks,” she added.
Meanwhile, Unite said the letter “sounded the death knell” for the pay review body.
Barrie Brown, the union’s national officer for health, said: “It is clear from Danny Alexander’s statement that NHS staff pay is set to become a political football.”
Mr Alexander also noted that the government would shortly be asking the NHS Pay Review Body to carry out a review of the Agenda for Change pay structure.
The review will consider changing the contract so that it “might better support the challenges facing the NHS in terms of both patient care and affordability”, he said.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has previously said that the government is prepared to negotiate a better pay deal this year, in return for a further dilution of terms and conditions in Agenda for Change.