One per cent NHS pay rise plans ‘insulting’, meeting hears

Councillors in Leeds have called the Government’s recent one per cent pay-rise suggestion for NHS staff “insulting”.

Saturday, 27th March 2021, 6:00 am

A motion, known as a “white paper”, was presented to Leeds city councillors this week, calling on the council to recognise the work key workers do and asking the Government for a pay rise to NHS staff.

Proposing an amendment to the paper, opposition Conservative members suggested that Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust staff should be offered the title Freedom of the City. They suggested such rises would be ‘unrealistic’ at the moment, and that private sector workers had suffered a far greater loss of income during the pandemic.

However, Labour members suggested this was “insulting”, that health workers would much rather have decent pay than Freedom of the City, and that the government had found money for private sector outsourcing.

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A nurse in Leeds protesting about pay in 2020.

Presenting Labour’s white paper, Coun Ben Garner told a full Leeds City Council meeting that key workers were inappropriately recompensed for the work that they do.

He added social care needed more funding to remain attractive in the jobs market.

The motion read: “This Council thanks all key workers in Leeds for their work during the pandemic and believes they all deserve a pay rise and to be treated with respect at work.”

It follows a decision from central government to propose only a one per cent rise to NHS staff this year. However, the Office of Budget Responsibility forecasts that inflation will rise by 1.5 percent this year, meaning a real terms cut for NHS staff.

Giving an impassioned speech, Coun Jonathan Bentley (Lib Dem): “We talk about respect, but how does a key worker feel respected if they have to rely on food banks to feed their families?

“How does an NHS worker feel respected if, after devoting their careers to public service, they see billions of pounds being given to the private sector with little scrutiny, then being told the government can’t afford the pay rise they promised.

“Respect is about feeling valued and politicians keeping promises. Handclaps don’t pay the rent.

“The government must stop their obsession with ‘private sector knows best’ – the supply of PPE, the test and trace to name a few have all consumed billions of pounds of government money and provided jobs and profit to the Conservative Party and their friends and donors.”

Proposing the Conservatives’ amendment, Coun Trish Smith (Con): “I want to say that key workers in Leeds have made an enormous contribution to this city’s fight against the pandemic. Our NHS and social care staff deserve our sincerest thanks.

“We should also be mindful that the term ‘key worker’ is very broad – it encompasses professions and roles far beyond the NHS. It includes shop workers, delivery drivers, those working in education and childcare.

“The Government has argued that restraint in public sector pay is necessary – covid has deepened the disparity between public and private sector wages.

“When you look at the huge numbers of people who had pay cuts or lost their jobs entirely, despite the phenomenal levels of financial support from government, I think we need to be reasonable when we talk about pay rises for public sector workers.

“However deserving all these workers may be of receiving one, the ‘deserving’ part is not an issue, but we also need to have one eye on what is affordable.”

They proposed an addition to the white paper to say that all Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust staff should instead be offered Freedom of the City.

Coun Helen Hayden (Lab) responded: “Although the Freedom of the City is a great honour, I think they would rather have a decent pay rise and, to be frank, it is an insult after all they have been through.

“I know how exhausted and demoralised they are. In our society we value people through remuneration – there is no getting away from that, so to be given this cursory one per cent is insulting.”

Coun Sam Firth (Con) said: “You only want to talk to the message that has been pumped out by Labour HQ about public sector workers.

“We are still in the situation where you talk about public sector workers who have done a brilliant job.

“But it is about affordability, and also putting it in perspective that we are only a few months on from pay rises that had come in last year. So let’s not jump the gun just because there is an election coming up.

“Coun Bentley says the private sector has not been good enough, well the pharmaceutical industry has been good enough to provide us with vaccines in record time.”

Councillors of all parties then voted unanimously to support Labour’s motion.

Helen Hayden is running as a Labour candidate for the Temple Newsam Ward. According to the Who Can I Vote For? website, Robert Hayes is likely to run at the Conservative Party Candidate.

Ben Garner is expected to run as the Labour candidate for the Ardsley and Robin Hood ward. No other possible candidates have been listed on the Who Can I Vote For? website.

Sam Firth is expected to run as the Conservative candidate for the Harewood ward. No other possible candidates have yet been listed on the Who Can I Vote For? website.

Leeds City Council is expected to release the full list of candidates on April 8.