Nurses planning new wave of strikes as RCN votes against pay offer, sources say – UK politics live | Politics

RCN planning new wave of strikes because members have voted against pay offer, sources say

Kiran Stacey

Nurses in England are preparing to go on strike until Christmas after members of the country’s biggest nursing union voted against the government’s pay deal, the Guardian has learned.

The Royal College of Nursing will announce that members have rejected the government’s offer and will at the same time announce a new ballot for more aggressive strikes likely to last for the next six months.

The decision is a blow for both ministers and union bosses, who came to an agreement after months of strikes culminating in three weeks of intensive negotiations.

Rishi Sunak had hoped that a settlement with nurses would help bring an end to this winter’s wave of industrial action, but instead the prime minister now faces the possibility of another NHS crisis later this year.

An RCN spokesperson said:

The vote has closed and the figures are being verified. There is no result until that point. We will make an announcement later today and tell our members first.

Updated at 06.57 EDT

Key events

In the light of the photo ID polling mentioned at 2.46pm, Chris Curtis, a pollster and a Labour party candidate, points out that the pilot schemes run by the Electoral Commission in 2018 and in 2019 only tested what would happen if people had to produce photo ID to vote in two council areas. The other pilots looked at alternative ways of tightening ID requirements.

Given this level of regional variation, you would have assumed the infinite wisdom of the @ElectoralCommUK would have trialled Photo ID in a range of different areas?

Turns out the 2018/19 pilots only looked at Pendle and Woking.

— Chris Curtis (@chriscurtis94) April 14, 2023

Voters in east Midlands more than 5 times as likely to lack photo ID as voters in south-east, poll suggests

Anyone wanting to vote in the local elections in England next month will, for the first time, have to provide photo ID. The government has repeatedly dismissed claims that the new law will lead to people being disfranchised, but new polling by Omnisis for Byline Times suggests the impact could be more significant than ministers accept.

The polling suggests there is significant variation in what different age groups know about the new rules. In his write-up Josiah Mortimer from Byline Times says:

While 22% of people across England are unaware of the new ID rules, awareness of the new rules is even lower among younger voters, with 35% of those under 40 across Great Britain unaware of the new ID requirements – compared to only 20% of those over 40. Voters in the Yorkshire and the Humber region and the North West of England are among the most in the dark, with a quarter unaware of the ID requirement.

The polling also suggests considerable regional variation in the proportion of people who possess photo ID. Mortimer says:

Perhaps most worrying however is the scale of potential disenfranchisement. One in eight (13%) adults in England don’t own a photo ID, a figure that is roughly the same across Britain. However, the number is much lower in the largely Tory-voting south-east at just 4%. A stark 23% of adults in the east Midlands and 17% in the north-west lack photo ID, according to the findings. The figures are far higher than the government’s official estimates of just 4% of voters lacking valid photo identification.

This suggests voters in the east Midlands are more than five times as likely to lack photo ID as voters in the south-east.

In a statement on the pay offer to civil servants for 2023-24, the Cabinet Office stressed that 4.5% was only an average. A spokesperson said:

Departments are encouraged to factor in their longer term objectives, including wider workforce priorities that are required to be addressed over the remainder of the spending review period, and to target the pay award to address specific priorities in their workforce and pay strategies …

The percentage increase will refer to overall average pay awards within the department and individuals may receive a higher or lower award, as it is for departments to decide how to target their pay award based on their own workforce and business needs.

Sunak discusses accelerating military support for Ukraine with Zelenskiy

Rishi Sunak discussed accelerating military support for Ukraine in a call with its president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, this morning, No 10 said. In a readout of the call, Downing Street said:

The leaders discussed the latest situation on the battlefield and the prime minister paid tribute to the efforts of the Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut.

Discussing the abhorrent beheading of a Ukrainian soldier shown on social media in recent days, the prime minister said the video was appalling and those responsible had to be held to account.

The leaders also discussed efforts to accelerate military support to Ukraine, and the prime minister said the UK and its allies needed to continue to ensure Ukraine was in the strongest possible position to build on its recent battlefield successes.

That included increasing interoperability with Nato both in the short and long term, the prime minister added.

A No 10 picture of Rishi Sunak taken yesterday, when he was on a call with the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi. Photograph: No 10’s Flickr account

Updated at 09.24 EDT

Civil servants offered ‘worst pay deal in public sector by far’, says FDA union

Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA, the union representing senior civil servants, has issued a statement about the pay offer for his members, saying it is “the worst pay deal in the public sector by far”. He says:

Following months of ministers dragging their feet, the government has decided to shoot itself in the foot over civil service pay. Today’s pay remit guidance of a 4.5% increase, with no consolidated payment, is unconscionable given the current economic climate that civil servants face.

This has been done without any meaningful dialogue on the substance of the ‘offer’, despite repeated assurances over the last two months of an enhanced consultation process, which just rubs salt in the wound. There is no pretence that the government places any value in engagement and constructive dialogue.

This guidance will leave the civil service with the worst pay deal in the public sector by far, showing utter contempt for the vital work they do to support the government and deliver public services that the country relies upon.

Today I met with the minister for the Cabinet Office [Jeremy Quin] and pleaded with him to pull back from the brink of what will inevitably be a prolonged and damaging dispute. We always try to engage constructively and in good faith with the government to reach the best outcome but it’s clear that the government has no intention of offering us that same courtesy. As a result, the FDA’s executive committee will meet on Wednesday 19 April 2023 to consider a national ballot for industrial action in the civil service.

Updated at 09.26 EDT

FDA union for senior civil servants to consider strike ballot over pay offer

The FDA, which represents senior civil servants, is also furious about the latest pay offer from government, ITV’s Anushka Asthana reports. Like the PCS (see 12.41pm) and Prospect (see 12.46pm), it feels that civil servants are being treated unfairly because they have not been offered any extra for 2022-23, like health workers and teachers, who have both been offered one-off lump sums for that year.

Dave Penman, the FDA’s general secretary, says his union’s national executive will now meet next Wednesday to consider a ballot on strike action.

Meanwhile -just seen a letter from Dave Penman @FDAGenSec to members of the FDA union – of more senior civil servants saying how he pleaded with ministers this morning not to push ahead with 4.5% offer to civil servants without a one-off payment. 1/

— Anushka Asthana (@AnushkaAsthana) April 14, 2023

It looks like civil service unions – (FDA and Prospect met with minister at Cab office) furious that no one off payment, when this was offered to teachers and health workers – and now looks like industrial action could expand in this area too. PCS have been striking already 2/

— Anushka Asthana (@AnushkaAsthana) April 14, 2023

After a period in which it felt like the govt was making progress on strikes – things feel much more febrile again today 4/

— Anushka Asthana (@AnushkaAsthana) April 14, 2023

Civil servants announce fresh strikes as unions condemn latest pay offer

Fresh strikes are to be held by civil servants after unions attacked an announcement of a pay rise for this year of between 4.5% and 5%, PA Media reports.

Prospect said its members will walk out on 10 May and 7 June across government departments and other areas, such as the Met Office and Health and Safety Executive.

Mike Clancy, the general secretary of Prospect, said:

We have repeatedly offered to engage in pay talks aimed at resolving this dispute, provided they followed a comparable approach to that employed elsewhere in the public service.

By publishing the pay control, the government has abandoned its staff to further real terms cuts and to remain at the back of the public service pay queue.

This industrial action was entirely avoidable, but the government’s failure to bring anything to the table has made it inevitable and it leaves hard-working civil servants with no option but to protest over their treatment.

Prospect members are the specialists upon whom all aspects of effective government depend. If the government doesn’t change its stance, then it will face a recruitment and retention crisis that degrades the civil service and the public services we all rely on.

🚨 BREAKING: Prospect members in the public services sector will take further strike action on 10 May and 7 June.

This industrial action follows the refusal of the government to enter negotiations to resolve the current pay and conditions dispute.

— Prospect Union (@ProspectUnion) April 14, 2023

Updated at 07.59 EDT

PCS union dismisses latest civil service pay offer as ‘an outrage’

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents civil servants, has condemned the latest pay offer from the government.

Mark Serwotka, the union’s general secretary, made the announcement after a meeting this morning at the Cabinet Office where Jeremy Quin, the paymaster general, set out a pay offer for civil servants for 2023-24. Average pay awards would be 4.5%, with an extra 0.5% available for lower-paid staff.

Serwotka said that, although this was an improvement on what they were offered for 2022-23, the government has still not given civil servants a proper pay rise for that financial year. In a statement he said:

What we have been offered for 2023 is not enough but it is, for the first time, in line with what other public sector workers have been offered and have rejected.

That we were offered it in the first place is only because of our national campaign and our incredibly well-supported strike action.

Our strikes have moved the government, but nowhere near far enough.

The government has once again insulted our members in a way no other workers have been subjected to. Despite strong indications ministers were giving our members a backdated pay rise or a lump sum, today’s announcement makes no provision at all to address 2022’s pay, which they have done for other public sector workers.

This is an outrage, and to single us out for worse treatment than any other union is completely unacceptable.

The PCS is currently balloting its members on further strike action. The union says today’s offer was “another reason” why members should vote yes.

Updated at 07.50 EDT

More than half of voters do not think government’s Rwanda policy will stop small boats, poll suggests

The promise to cut hospital waiting times, which could be in jeopardy if nurses go on strike again (see 9.05am), was one of four pledges made by Rishi Sunak in January that seemed easy to meet, because they were likely to happen anyway. The final pledge, stopping small boats, was in a wholly different category because, taken literally, there seems to be no chance of it being fully met by the time of the next election.

Yesterday Sunak refused to guarantee that the small boat Channel crossings would stop by the time of the next election. The public may well share his analysis. New polling published by More in Common, a thinktank, shows that more than half of voters do not think that the government’s Rwanda policy will work. (The Rwanda policy is only part of the government’s plan for dealing with small boats, but it is a central part of the strategy.)

Explaining the findings in an article for the Times’s Red Box, Luke Tryl, the director of More in Common, writes.

That desire for control drives public support for the Rwanda policy, with 46% backing the government’s plans, 27% opposing and the rest saying they don’t know. But this is where a simplistic picture of support for the policy ends.

For starters, despite the public being more likely than not to support the policy, in no public poll has support reached a majority. Further, when asked whether they think the policy will work to deter crossings the public is far more likely to say that it won’t (51%) than will (34%). This poses a risk to the Conservatives of raising the salience of a problem that the public doesn’t think they will fix – potentially driving their voters to populist parties such as Reform UK.

Tryl has also written about the poll findings in a Twitter thread starting here.

🧵New research from @moreincommon_ on the Rwanda policy finds the public *don’t* support the Government’s proposal for a blanket ban on refugees being able to claim asylum in the UK if they cross the channel – and instead support exemptions for a wide range of groups. (1/n)

— Luke Tryl (@LukeTryl) April 14, 2023

When Sunak announced his five pledges, he refused to say whether the promise meant that all small boat crossings would stop by the time of the next election, or just that numbers would go down. “Ultimately the country will judge,” he said. But other cabinet ministers were less equivocal. Oliver Dowden, the Cabinet Office minister, said the government wanted to stop all small boat crossings by the time of the next election. Suella Braverman said, if the government did not stop all small boat crossings by the time of the next election, the Tories would lose.

One theory is that No 10 is treating this not as a transactional pledge (one that voters expect to be met) but as an aspirational one (where the government will get credit for trying, even if it fails). Donald Trump never did build the wall between the US and Mexico (apart from a small section), but his supporters did not seem to mind.

Another theory is that the pledge is just a staging post in a process that will result in the Tories going into the next election proposing to leave the European convention on human rights (ECHR). This is what Paul Goodman, the ConservativeHome editor who interviewed Sunak, suggests in his assessment of the interview.

[Sunak] has one glaring vulnerability. He has promised to Stop the Boats. I asked him yesterday if he will have done so by the time of the next election. He wouldn’t confirm it. And if he doesn’t deliver on all of his five pledges – or at the very least be straining ever sinew to do so – he will be seen as a house of cards, and will duly collapse like one.

He said yesterday that the government will “robustly challenge” any adverse, interim ruling on its Rwanda scheme from the ECHR. But what would that mean were the unelected state – bits of the civil service, ministers’ legal advisers, parts of border force – to down tools, dig in and declare that they weren’t prepared to defy the court?

The prime minister knows that there appears to be no Commons majority for quitting the ECHR altogether. Perhaps he has some scheme up his sleeve. But I can’t help wondering if he is moving towards – or rather being propelled towards by the force of events – a manifesto commitment to leave?

Updated at 07.55 EDT

RCN planning new wave of strikes because members have voted against pay offer, sources say

Kiran Stacey

Nurses in England are preparing to go on strike until Christmas after members of the country’s biggest nursing union voted against the government’s pay deal, the Guardian has learned.

The Royal College of Nursing will announce that members have rejected the government’s offer and will at the same time announce a new ballot for more aggressive strikes likely to last for the next six months.

The decision is a blow for both ministers and union bosses, who came to an agreement after months of strikes culminating in three weeks of intensive negotiations.

Rishi Sunak had hoped that a settlement with nurses would help bring an end to this winter’s wave of industrial action, but instead the prime minister now faces the possibility of another NHS crisis later this year.

An RCN spokesperson said:

The vote has closed and the figures are being verified. There is no result until that point. We will make an announcement later today and tell our members first.

Updated at 06.57 EDT

Amazon workers to go on strike in Coventry

Hundreds of workers at the online retailer Amazon will launch a strike this weekend in a long-running dispute over pay, PA Media reports. PA says:

Members of the GMB union at the company’s Coventry fulfilment centre will walk out on Sunday for three days.

Further strikes are planned from April 21 to 23.

Amanda Gearing, a GMB senior organiser, said: “GMB members are worth more; they will not accept a pay rise of pennies from one of the world’s wealthiest corporations. With strike action in Coventry escalating and ballots under way in five further Amazon depots, this could fast become a summer of strike chaos at Amazon.”

Amazon said the minimum starting pay for its employees has increased to between £11 and £12 an hour, depending on location.

A statement said: “Over the past seven months, our minimum starting pay has risen by 10%, and by more than 37% since 2018. We also work hard to provide great benefits, a positive work environment and excellent career opportunities.”

Updated at 07.56 EDT

English polling stations to bring in extra staff as voter ID changes begin

Polling stations in England will have extra staff to help voters on 4 May as the government introduces its new rules on photographic ID, the Electoral Commission has said. Jamie Grierson has the story.

ITV’s Anushka Asthana also (see 9.50am) expects the government to go ahead and just implement the pay offer for NHS staff if RCN members reject it but other union members are in favour.

Have heard that the government is likely to push ahead and deliver the pay offer to NHS Agenda for Change staff (including nurses and ambulance workers but not doctors) if unions representing a majority of the “NHS staff council” vote for the deal.

— Anushka Asthana (@AnushkaAsthana) April 13, 2023

In that situation all NHS workers would get the money. But obviously those that voted to reject the deal could still strike

— Anushka Asthana (@AnushkaAsthana) April 13, 2023

Updated at 05.55 EDT

RMT says it is considering ‘updated’ offer from rail companies on pay and conditions

Leaders of the RMT rail union are considering an “updated” offer from train companies aimed at resolving the long-running dispute over jobs, pay and conditions, PA Media reports. PA says:

The move by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) follows weeks of talks in a bid to break the deadlock.

The RMT has held a series of strikes stretching back to last summer which caused travel disruption for passengers across the country.

An RMT spokesperson said: “We have received an updated offer from the RDG and our NEC (national executive committee) is considering its contents. No decision on any next steps has been taken.”

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group said: “Following further constructive joint discussions with the RMT leadership, we have put forward a fair revised offer which makes important clarifications and reassurances, in particular around job terms and conditions for our employees.

“Our ambition remains to secure long-term, rewarding careers for our people, a better service for passengers and a railway that takes no more than its fair share from the taxpayer.

“Our hope is that the RMT executive will put this proposal to its full train operating company membership and allow them a say on the deal, so we can end this dispute and work together to deliver a strong future for Britain’s railway and all those who work on it.”

What happens if RCN rejects pay offer but other health unions accept it?

A reader has asked me this through the “send us a message” feature.

If RCN reject and other union vote to accept the deal, will the deal be imposed on nurses as majority voted for?

At this stage we don’t know. Just going ahead and imposing the pay deal anyway would be one option – probably the easiest, and most obvious, for ministers – but, as Dan Bloom points out in his London Playbook briefing for Politico, partly it depends on what other unions on the NHS Staff Council (the body that deals with pay for nurses and other NHS workers covered by the Agenda for Change system) decide. Bloom explains:

Playbook tried to answer the question of what happens if one big union, such as the RCN, rejects the pay deal while others accept it. There were differences of opinion among union officials we spoke to, but a meeting on May 2 is key.

Showdown: The NHS Staff Council — including all six unions with strike mandates — is due to meet two days before the local elections to decide on the pay offer. A senior official with knowledge of the process tells Playbook each member of the council gets a weighted vote corresponding to the size of their membership. After weighting, an official says the deal would only need a simple majority to pass — meaning it could in theory be introduced even if not everyone is in favor.

In his analysis for the Times, Chris Smyth says, although it is unclear what will happen next, ministers are not expected to reopen pay negotiations. He says:

The problem for union leaders was the Treasury’s insistence that pay rises of more than 5 per cent would fuel inflation. This meant that more of the offer had to come in the form of a one-off bonus, which many staff see as “insulting”. That is likely to have contributed to a no vote.

What happens now is uncertain, particularly if some unions reject it while others accept. Ministers could drop the bonus and revert to their original plans for a 3.5 per cent rise, or ask the pay review body to make a recommendation, although that is likely to be similar or even higher than the 5 per cent on the table.

Ministers could decide to pay out anyway and hope that extra cash in pay packets weakens the resolve to strike. What they will not want to do is reopen talks. That would send a signal to the rest of the public sector that it is always worth holding out for more.

Updated at 05.17 EDT

Ireland’s deputy PM says former DUP leader Arlene Foster wrong to say Biden hates UK

Lisa O'CarrollLisa O’Carroll

Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Micheál Martin, has criticised remarks by the former DUP leader and former Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster, who said Joe Biden “hates” the UK.

He said she was “wrong”, declaring that her remarks about the US president were “misplaced” as he doesn’t “hate” anyone. He told RTÉ’s This Morning show:

I’m very surprised by that comment.

The one word that you do not associate with Joe Biden is the word hate. He’s the antithesis of that. He’s the opposite of that. He always speaks about the dignity of every human person. He’s more love than hate by a country mile.

Biden has spoken about the importance of treating everyone with dignity in each of the three speeches he has already given on his four-day trip to the island of Ireland.

Martin said:

I think that was a wrong comment by Arlene. In fact, he often references his British heritage as well, in terms of his uncle who had been involved in the British navy, and I think he gave a personal anecdote about that. So I think that was misplaced. He’s not that type of person.

Updated at 05.18 EDT

Government and RCN should resume talks if nurses vote against pay offer, says NHS leader

In his LBC interview this morning Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents trusts and other NHS bodies, said that, if RCN members do reject the government’s pay offer, both sides should resume talks immediately. He said:

If the RCN ballot today is to reject, we can only say to both sides, look you are not far apart please get down to talks and move ahead with it.

In the interview Taylor said that further strikes by nurses could make it “almost impossible” for the government to meet its promise to cut waiting times. (See 9.05am.) He said figures published yesterday were “really impressive” and showed the government has been making good progress.

Reducing the number of people waiting 18 months to only 30,000; reducing the number of people waiting a year; more diagnostic tests than every before; responding to those diagnostic tests in terms of cancer particularly on target. So the NHS can make progress, is making progress, pushing into the backlog, but these strikes make that very, very difficult.

But Taylor also said the strike by junior doctors was not helping. He explained:

We have coped reasonably well [while junior doctors have been on strike this week] in terms of being able to meet emergency critical care. The problem is that in order to do that we have had to put on hold a huge proportion of the outpatients work and the elective work we do.

For example, yesterday I was on a surgical ward, that ward would normally have many junior doctors on it, it now had consultants on it. The consultants were coping fine.

As they are doing that work their outpatients list is not being attended to, the list of people waiting for operations is growing. The backlog will have increased.

When Rishi Sunak announced his five pledges in January, one of them said: “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly.” Responding to questions from journalists on the day the pledges were announced, Sunak said he wanted to get rid of waits lasting more than a year and a half by April this year, and to eliminate waits lasting more than a year, and to have the overall waiting list going down, by spring next year.

The figures out yesterday showed the overall waiting list still going up, but 18-month waits down to 30,000 in February, a 35% fall on the previous month.

Updated at 07.10 EDT

The RCN ballot of members on the NHS pay deal closed at 9am. The result should be announced this afternoon, the union says. A spokesperson said:

Voting closed at 9am and we have no verified result until later today. An announcement of the final result will take place during the day and we will set out the next steps.

Rishi Sunak warned over NHS waiting times targets if RCN votes against nurses pay deal

Good morning. Yesterday, when ConservativeHome was interviewing Rishi Sunak, they started with a video that they described as presenting Sunak’s own account of what he has achieved since he became prime minister. One of the successes it mentioned was agreeing a pay deal for NHS workers, and it quoted Sunak as saying, about a month ago, he was “delighted to say that the government has reached an agreement with unions representing over a million NHS workers, on a fair and reasonable basis”.

Sunak may have been speaking too soon. The unions involved have been balloting their members on the deal and the Royal College of Nursing, probably the most important union in this negotiation, is announcing the result of the ballot today.

Although the union recommended that members should accept the pay deal, there is speculation that they will vote against. In our story Kiran Stacey reports:

Sources close to the union said the vote is so close that it has been forced to make contingency plans for a no vote. Those plans would mean the NHS in England would be hit by another wave of nursing strikes, starting within weeks and going on for what union officials say would be a prolonged period of time.

Such a result could leave patients having to deal with strikes by nurses and junior doctors at the same time, leading to more delayed treatments and missed appointments. It would also deal a heavy blow to the government, which had hoped a deal with nurses would pave the way for a series of settlements and bring an end to the winter’s wave of industrial action.

The Times has had a similar briefing. In their story Chris Smyth and Meheeran Khan write:

NHS bosses are particularly concerned about the RCN, whose members are expected to vote against by a “narrow” margin, with some predicting a 55-45 split. Unison members, who include ambulance workers and other frontline staff, are considered more likely to accept.

Three sources with knowledge of the process said it was becoming increasingly apparent that RCN members were likely to vote against the deal. Although voting will continue until 9am tomorrow, one NHS source said: “It’s not looking good”.

Unison, which represents ambulance staff and other NHS workers, is also announcing the result of its ballot today. It also recommended that members accept the deal on offer. The GMB and Unite are also balloting their members, but those results are due later this month.

Yesterday Sunak signalled that one of the five pledges he made in January, stopping small boats, might not be achieved by the time of the general election. A second pledge was cutting waiting lists, and this morning Matthew Taylor, the head of the NHS Confederation (which represents NHS organisations) said further strikes, which may follow if RCN members vote against the pay deal, would put this pledge in jeopardy. He told LBC:

Another set of strikes would mean that it would become very very difficult, perhaps almost impossible, for the health service, hospitals, to meet targets that they set this year for reducing waiting lists.

There is not much other politics in the diary today, and so we are likely to be focusing on this story.

If you want to contact me, do try the new “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a PC or a laptop. (It is not available on the app yet.) This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line, privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate), or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

Updated at 05.42 EDT

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