The business secretary, Grant Shapps, will be able to decide statutory minimum service levels for a number of public services under the terms of a new anti-strike bill condemned by Labour as likely to increase stoppages.
Trade unions are meeting to discuss holding a coordinated “day of action” across the public sector in an attempt to maximise pressure on the government to give workers a better pay deal.
Labour has challenged Rishi Sunak to say how much money he “wasted” by using a jet to fly from London to Leeds for a health visit. (See 2.46pm.)
Ministers have come under increasing pressure to say whether they will drop promises to implement major changes made after the Windrush scandal. As my colleagues Rajeev Syal and Amelia Gentleman report, stepping in for the home secretary, Suella Braverman, the junior Home Office minister Sarah Dines faced pressure from MPs across the house after telling the Commons she would not comment “on speculation in the Guardian”.
Grant Shapps has indicated that he did not know Boris Johnson had been airbrushed out of a picture from Spaceport Cornwall before he posted it on Twitter.
A Labour government would overhaul routes into work for sick or long-term unemployed people, including a guarantee that those who move into work will not have to face gruelling benefit re-assessments, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow work and pensions secretary, has said.
According to a new YouGov survey, 81% of people say they are not confident in the government’s ability to address the current problems in the NHS.
According to the breakdown of the figures, even among Tory supporters 73% of people don’t have confidence in the government on this issue.
The Labour MP Debbie Abrahams has used the 10-minute rule in the Commons to propose a bill for the creation of a statutory code of conduct for ministers, MPs, peers and councillors in England, PA Media reports. PA says:
Abrahams spoke about the need to “restore confidence in politics and politicians” as she made the case for her elected representatives (codes of conduct) bill in the lower chamber.
The bill would make the ministerial and members’ codes statutory and would introduce a national statutory code of conduct for local councillors.
It would also create an independent office of a new commissioner for ministerial standards, protected by statute, and a new ethics commission.
Abrahams said: “It may be a tiny minority who bend or break the rules but we all become tarred by the same brush, corrupted by association. According to polling by Compassion in Politics, four in five people have no respect for politicians.”
Explaining the purposes of her bill, Abrahams said that, just like in Northern Ireland, the ministerial code, including the seven Nolan principles, would be put on the statute.
The Nolan principles are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
The 10-minute rule allows an MP to make a short Commons speech proposing a bill. Abrahams’ motion was not opposed, but 10-minute rule bills almost never become law because no further time is set aside for debate.
A&E doctors criticise plans to treat patients in temporary cabins in hospital car parks
A&E doctors have criticised plans to spend millions of pounds on treating patients in temporary cabins in hospital carparks to relieve the intense strain on emergency wards. (See 10am.)
The plan was a key element of the measures to address the crisis in the NHS that Steve Barclay, the health secretary, announced in the Commons on Monday.
But the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, which represents the UK’s A&E doctors, said that cabins do not work and will not reduce ambulance crews’ long waits to hand over patients.
Dr Adrian Boyle, the college’s president, said:
We urge the government not to revisit the pre-emergency department cohort areas that have been tried, tested and have not worked many times over. These are not effective and will not reduce ambulance waiting times.
These only move corridor care into ‘temporary structures’ built in car parks that become rapidly full. We know it is much safer to have post-emergency department cohort areas.
And Boyle’s deputy, Dr Ian Higginson, the RCEM’s vice-president, posted a message on Twitter saying plans like this “don’t work and don’t solve anything”.
TUC says it's holding national 'protect right to strike' day on 1 February to mobilise opposition to anti-strike bill
The TUC has announced that it is holding a “protect the right to strike” day on Wednesday 1 February to mobilise opposition to the government’s anti-strike bill. Paul Nowak, the TUC’s general secretary, said:
On 1 February we will we hold events across the country against this spiteful new bill – which is unworkable and almost certainly illegal.
We will call on the general public to show support for workers taking action to defend their pay and conditions, to defend our public services and to protect the fundamental right to strike.
The TUC said that the day would involve events being held in different parts of the country and that further details of the events being planned would be announced later this month.
At the afternoon Downing Street lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson said the government expected its new strikes (minimum service levels) bill to become law this year. That is what you would expect, because the current session of parliament is due to end in the autumn, and it is unusual for bills to be carried over from one session of parliament to the next.
But, in an acknowledgement that the bill will face opposition, particularly in the House of Lords, the spokesperson said its progress would be “dependent on parliamentarians”.
As the Mirror’s Dan Bloom points out, even though government ministers have repeatedly described this as legislation for “minimum safety levels” rather than “minimum service levels”, which is the standard term for this sort of law (the acronym, MSL, is the same), the word safety does not appear in the bill at all.
How the government's anti-strike law will work
The strikes (minimum service levels) bill only runs to 12 pages (which, for a major government bill, is very short). It sets an outline for how minimum service levels would work, but the exact details of what minimum service levels would be (for example, how many ambulances would have to be available during an ambulance strike, or how many teachers would have to work during a teachers’ strike) are matters for consultation, and are not set out in the bill.
Under the current law, provided a union organises a strike in accordance with rules set out in the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992, the union cannot be sued for damages, and workers cannot be sacked. This bill would change that because, to continue to enjoy those protections, unions and individuals would have to comply with the minimum service level (MSL) legislation.
How the new law would work – for government
The law would give the secretary of state the power “to make regulations providing for levels of service where there are strikes in relevant services, which are defined as ‘minimum service regulations’”.
In a briefing last week, the government said it would definitely use the new MSL powers in fire, ambulance and rail services, but in the other sectors covered by the bill (other areas of health, education, nuclear decommissioning and border security), it would look to negotiate voluntary minimum service level agreements first. But this distinction does not apply in the legislation.
How the new law would work – for employers
Under the law, the government will set minimum service levels. But it will be up to the employer to tell unions how many workers would have to show up on a strike day to ensure MSLs are achieved.
It would do this through work notices. The explanatory note with the bill say:
Work notices are the mechanism that puts minimum service levels into practice for particular strikes in relevant services. The work notice may be given by the employer to the trade union and will identify the people required to work to secure that the levels of service set out in the minimum service regulations are provided on a strike day.
The bill says employers would have to issue a work notice after receipt of notice that a strike is going ahead, but at least seven days before the strike starts (or later, if the union agrees). The employer is not allowed to say that more people are needed to work than are “reasonably necessary” for the MSL to be maintainted.
How the new law would work – for unions and employees
Under the bill unions would have to take “reasonable steps” to ensure its members comply with the work notice. If the union fails to do this, it could be sued for damages for the consequences of the strike – although it would only be liable for damages caused by its not complying with the law; it would not not have to pay damages for losses that would have been suffered by the employer anyway.
And workers who go on strike on strike day would lose their automatic protection from unfair dismissal if the work notice says they should be working, provided that “their employer has (before the strike day) given the employee notice of the work specified in the work notice that they are required to carry out on the strike day and a statement that they must comply with that work notice”.
Doctors' leader says discharge plan must be properly funded to stop 'unsustainable pressures' just being shifted to GPs
GPs fear that the government’s plan to discharge thousands of hospital patients into care homes could lead to family doctors becoming even more overloaded.
The Royal College of GPs today voiced concern that the move to help the NHS cope with its intense winter crisis by freeing up hospital beds will add to the pressure on already-overstretched GP surgeries.
The health secretary, Steve Barclay, yesterday announced plans for the NHS to spend £200m buying up places in care homes to take 2,500 discharged patients who were deemed medically fit to leave. That would ease hospital overcrowding and reduce the amount of time ambulance crews spend outside A&Es waiting to unload a patient.
Prof Kamila Hawthorne, the chair of the RCGP, told the Guardian she supported the policy in principle as “the right thing to do”. However, family doctors are already “working to our limits right now” and could not easily become responsible for even more patients, many of whom are likely to be frail and elderly.
NHS pressures are being felt right across the health service, including in general practice. GPs and our teams have a vital role supporting patients in the community, including when they have been discharged from hospital and when they are waiting for hospital treatment.
But we are working to our limits right now, making more consultations every month than before the pandemic, yet with fewer trained, full-time equivalent GPs. It is the right thing to do to look for ways to safely move patients out of hospital when they are well enough to leave but not necessarily well enough to go home and look after themselves, both to create capacity in hospitals for the many other patients who need beds but also because it is more cost-effective and generally because people want to be cared for closer to their homes.
But, Hawthorne added:
Any such initiative must be properly resourced and staffed otherwise it is just shifting unsustainable pressures from one area of the health service to another, and again risking patient safety.
Government publishes strikes (minimum service levels) bill
Labour challenges Sunak to say how much money he 'wasted' by taking jet from London to Leeds for visit
Labour has challenged Rishi Sunak to say how much money he “wasted” by using a jet to travel from London to Leeds yesterday. (See 12.31pm.) Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, said:
Families will be rightly angered by this show of extravagance by Rishi Sunak.
Patients and staff are crying out for action from this government in the midst of a crisis in our NHS while the prime minister jets from London to Leeds for a photo op.
The prime minister must come clean about how much taxpayers’ money was wasted on this 36-minute plane journey for a three-hour visit at the height of a cost of living crisis.
GMB says Shapps's claim it risked lives by not negotiating national safety levels during last strike 'outrageous slur'
As ITV’s Anushka Asthana reports, the GMB union has issued a response to Grant Shapps’s claim earlier that the GMB, and other unions representing ambulance staff, have been putting lives at risk because of their failure to negotiate national-level minimum service standards on strike days. (See 1.15pm.) It says this is an “outrageous slur”.
Jonathan Gullis (Con) says he used to be a represenative for the NASUWT teaching union. But he criticises the National Education Union, claiming it is led by “Commie [Kevin] Courtney” and “Bolshevik [Mary] Bousted”.
Joanna Cherry (SNP) asks Shapps to confirm that the TUC is right to say these proposals will almost certainly be illegal. (See 9.43am.)
Shapps says this bill is compliant with the European convention on human rights.
Shapps criticises the RMT for not putting the latest pay offer to its members. Because of that, members will not be aware of the full details.
He urges the RMT to change this.
Back in the Commons Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader, asks Grant Shapps if he can imagine the stress levels of public sector workers who have gone a decade with frozen pay. He says they are going on strike because they are desperate.
Shapps says it is not true to say workers have not had a pay rise for 10 years.
And he urges Corbyn to consider the stress felt by people who can’t get to work, or who are waiting for an ambulance.
Trade unions to discuss coordinated ‘day of action’ strike across public sector
Trade unions are to meet to discuss holding a coordinated “day of action” across the public sector in an attempt to maximise pressure on the government to give workers a better pay deal, my colleague Denis Campbell reports.
Richard Burgon (Lab) says this bill is part of an “alarming authoritarian drift”.
Shapps says this is “ludicrous”. He wonders if Burgon knows that happens in truly authoritarian countries.
Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, says it is “beyond risible” for Grant Shapps to blame anyone other than the government for minimium service levels not applying in the public services.
Richard Drax (Con) says the public sector workers who have been on strike have forgotten that the government spent £400bn safeguarding their jobs during Covid.
Shapps says many public sector workers are trying to do their best. He thinks many of them are frustrated by their union leaders leading them “up the garden path”.
Andy McDonald (Lab) says the whole point of having a government assessment of policy is to find out if it works or not. He says if the assessment says an idea is “bonkers”, it should be dropped.
Shapps says the final impact assessment has yet to be published.
But he does not see how anyone can argue that having minimum service standards would be harmful.
Shapps says the ambulance unions have not negotiated a national level of agreed safety ahead of the strike on Wednesday. He urges Labour to get the unions to do this.
In response to Labour’s Ian Lavery, who criticised the bill, Shapps claimed Lavery would be “voting against the safety of his own constituents”.
Shapps claims government's anti-strike legislation 'very moderate'
Alan Brown, for the SNP, says the new legislation is part of a “rightwing culture war” which “stinks”.
He says there are no ambulance strikes in Scotland because the Scottish government has managed to avoid them.
Pointing out that this is GB-wide legislation, he says the only way Scotland can become a country that respects workers’ rights is for it to be independent.
In response, Shapps says in some countries the emergency services are banned from going on strike in the first place. So this is a “very moderate” approach, he says.
And he points out that teachers are on strike in Scotland.
Shapps is replying to Rayner. He says her speech made it sound as if Covid had not happened, and President Putin had not invaded Ukraine.
He says even the Guardian has run an article saying other countries are facing similar problems.
(The Observer did run a big feature on problems in other European health services two days ago, but that said the situation in the UK was particularly bad.)
Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, is responding for the opposition.
She starts by referring to the case of a constituent who died when an ambulance did not turn up. And that was not on a strike day, she says.
She says no one wants to see these strikes go ahead.
Grant Shapps claims he made progress in talks with the unions last year, she says. But the unions said the progress was dismal.
She asks if Shapps will admit the government considered banning some key workers from joining unions in the first place.
How does Shapps think sacking key workers won’t make services worse?
Rayner says France and Spain, which have laws like this, lose more days to strikes than Britain.
Shapps quoted the ILO (International Labour Organisation) as being in favour of minimum service levels. But the ILO requires compensatory measures and an independent arbitrator, Rayner says.
She says this legislation is all about allowing the government to create a distraction from the problems it has created.
UPDATE: Rayner said:
How he goes on with one breath thanking nurses to sacking nurses, not just insulting, but utterly stupid.
There is no common sense about this at all. He says he recognises pressure faced by key workers, but he knows the NHS cannot find the nurses they need to work on the ward, he knows the trains don’t run even on non-strike days such is their shortage of staff.
So, how can he seriously think that sacking thousands of key workers won’t just plunge our public services further into crisis?
Here are some highlights of their heated exchange at Commons today:
Grant Shapps challenges opposition MPs to explain why they are opposed to minimum safety levels
Grant Shapps is now making a statement to MPs about industrial action.
He says the government supports the right to strike, but wants to take into account the interests of the public too.
He says the British people need to know that, if they need an ambulance, one will turn up. And they need to know that, if they need a train or a bus, they can get one. He says the poor are more reliant on public transport.
He praises the Royal College of Nursing for the way it negotiated minimum service levels with government ahead of its last strike. He goes on:
A lack of timely co-operation from the ambulance unions meant employers could not reach agreement nationally for minimum safety levels during recent strikes and health officials were left guessing at the likely minimum coverage, making contingency planning almost impossible and putting everyone’s constituents’ lives at risk.
The ambulance strike planned for tomorrow still does not have minimum safety levels in place and this will result in patchy emergency care for the British people, and this cannot continue.
(The unions representing ambulance workers says they negotiate safety agreements on a local, trust-by-trust basis, as they did during the last strike.)
That is why the government is legislating, he says.
He says, while the bill is being passed, the government will consult on what a minimum level of service should look like in fire and rescue, ambulance services and rail.
Other countries have similar legislation, he says.
He says, if MPs object to minimum safety levels, they should explain to their constituents why, if they have a stroke on a strike day, there will be no minimum standards in place.
Members of the opposition who object to minimum safety levels, well, they’ll need to explain to their constituents why it is that if you have a heart attack, a stroke or life-threatening illness on a strike day there are no minimum safety standards in place.
(The legislation refers to minimum service levels, but ministers say this is about minimum safety levels.)
In the Commons Sarah Dines is now accusing the Guardian report of being wrong. She has just accused the Guardian of “fallacious, inaccurate” reporting. But she did not say what aspect of last week’s report was wrong.
Stephen Timms (Lab) asked Dines to confirm that a migrants’ commissioner would be appointed. The Wendy Williams report recommended this, Priti Patel accepted this recommendation, but Suella Braverman, the current home secretary, now wants to drop that recommendation, we reported last week.
Dines said she would write to Timms about this in due course.
Diana Johnson, the Labour chair of the home affairs committee, asks if the recommendations in the Wendy Williams report about increasing the powers of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI) will be implemented.
Sarah Dines, the Home Office minister, repeats her point about not commenting on leaks. She urges MPs to wait to see what happens. She says the government should be judged by what it does, not by reports in the Guardian.
Notably, Dines does not deny the Guardian story from last week. Here is an extract from it.
The former home secretary Priti Patel made a firm promise to introduce all 30 recommendations made by [Wendy] Williams in 2020, who listed in her Windrush Lessons Learned Review the precise steps the department needed to take to avoid any repeat of the scandal.
An announcement is due to be made next week, revealing that 28 of the 30 recommendations were being formally “closed”, even though several have not been completed.
Three recommendations have been marked “discontinued”: recommendations nine (the migrants’ commissioner) and three (the reconciliation events), and recommendation 10, which would have strengthened the role of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, giving the body “more powers with regard to publishing reports”.
Home Office minister fails to deny report saying some of Windrush review recommendations won't be implemented
Sarah Dines, the Home Office minister, is replying to Stephen Kinnock.
She says successive governments have failed the Windrush generation. She says this government is putting that right.
In response to the question about the government abandoning its pledge to implement all the Windrush recommendations, Dines says she will not comment on leaks.
Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, says successive Conservative governments have treated the Windrush victims with contempt.
He says it has been reported that the government is U-turning on its pledge to implement all 30 of the recommendations in the Wendy Williams report.
He says Williams says only eight of the recommendations have been properly implemented. How many of them are being ditched?
And why have thousands of Windrush victims not yet received any compensation?
In the Commons Sarah Dines, a Home Office minister, is replying to Stephen Kinnock’s Windrush UQ.
Dines says there has been a concerted effort in the Home Office to right the wrongs suffered by those affected by the Windrush scandals
She says a report last year said 21 of the recommendations in the Wendy Williams report into the lessons learned from Windrush had been met, or partly met.
She concedes that in some areas there is more to do.
Labour plans to overhaul routes into work for sick or long-term unemployed
A Labour government would overhaul routes into work for sick or long-term unemployed people, including a guarantee that those who move into work will not have to face gruelling benefit re-assessments, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow work and pensions secretary, has said. My colleague Jessica Elgot has the story here.
No 10 defends Sunak's decision to take jet from London to Leeds for health visit
At the lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson also defended Rishi Sunak’s decision to use a jet to travel from London to Leeds for a health visit yesterday. The spokesperson said this was the most efficient use of Sunak’s time.
The website Joe has the full story. This is from Joe’s Ava Evans.
Shapps says he wasn't to blame for Boris Johnson being airbrushed out of picture he posted on Twitter
At the No 10 lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson was asked to justify Grant Shapps’ decision to airbrush Boris Johnson out of a picture he posted on Twitter related to the satellite space launch from Cornwall. The spokesperson did not accept that this was an example of “Stalinist revisionism”. But he also admitted he had not seen the pictures and, in response to a further question saying the government was supposed to be opposed to online disinformation, the spokesperson said he would look into the matter.
This is from the BBC’s Ione Wells.
According to Noa Hoffman from the Sun, Shapps says he used the picture without knowing that Johnson had been airbrushed out.
No 10 declines to say what proportion of union members would have to keep working during strikes under new law
At the Downing Street lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesperson would not say what proportion of a union’s membership would have to be working during a strike under the government’s minimum service levels legislation. He said the government would consult on this, and it would vary from sector to sector.
But, echoing what Grant Shapps said on his media round this morning (see 9.21am), the spokesperson said that the government was hoping unions would agree minimum service levels voluntarily, instead of having to have them imposed by statute. He said:
What this legislation aims to do is when, should unions progress with strike action and then should those unions not agree to set safe working levels, as we have seen some unions do – the RCN is a good example where they took a responsible step – then this acts as a safety net to provide that minimum level of safety to the public.
At 12.30pm Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, is asking an urgent question about the implementation of the the Windrush lessons learned review. The UQ has been prompted by the story by my colleagues Amelia Gentleman and Rajeev Syal last week saying some of the recommendations have been abandoned.
After the UQ, at around 1.15pm, Grant Shapps, the business secretary, will make a Commons statement about his anti-strikes bill.
'Government inaction' has contributed to many of 25,000 excess deaths since summer, says Tony Blair's thinktank
Government inaction has contributed to some of the 25,000 excess deaths in England and Wales since the summer, Tony Blair’s thinktank has said today.
It said many of these deaths “could have been avoided” if the government had done more to prepare for the winter crisis.
This morning the Office for National Statistics published its regular weekly death figures for England and Wales. It says that 9,517 deaths were registered in the week ending 30 December, and that this was 1,592 more than the five-year average for this time of year. These deaths are classified as excess deaths. The ONS says:
The number of deaths was above the five-year average in private homes (36.9% above, 684 excess deaths), hospitals (14.8% above, 537 excess deaths), care homes (20.4% above; 371 excess deaths) and other settings (0.2% above, 1 excess death).
In response, the Tony Blair Institute issued this statement from Dr Martin Carkett, a lead health expert at the thinktank. He said:
ONS figures released today show there were a further 1,592 excess deaths in England and Wales in the final week of 2022, above the five-year average. In total, there have been more than 25,000 excess deaths since the summer, many of which could have been avoided. This is the human cost of government inaction in the face of an entirely foreseeable crisis.
As part of its future of Britain project, the thinktank published a report in the summer on what could be done to avert a winter crisis in the NHS. Carkett said:
We set out 12 recommendations for government to take to focus leadership, minimise demand on the service, improve patient flow and efficiency and maximise capacity. And we called on the then PM to set up a winter crisis taskforce and confirm additional funding early to relieve pressure on hospitals.
While the government have taken forward some of these proposals, there is more that must be done now if we’re going to turn the tide, including extending free Covid-19 and flu vaccination to all over-18s.
In the longer-term the government needs to end this cycle of crisis by fully harnessing the possibilities of technology and moving faster on preventative care.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has said that between 300 and 500 people a week could be dying unnecessarily because of the crisis in A&E departments.
But in his interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday, when he was asked about this claim, Rishi Sunak said the NHS itself did not recognise those numbers and that he would “be careful” about relying on them.
NEU teachers' union says it has not ruled out strike over exam period
The National Education Union, which is currently balloting its members on strike action in England and Wales, has not ruled out teachers going on strike over the exam period.
Asked if this was a possibility, Kevin Courtney, the NEU’s joint general secretary, told Sky News this morning:
We don’t want to strike during the exam period. But nothing is ruled out.
If there were exams on, then teachers are preparing the children for those exams for a long period beforehand. You can have a strike on an exam day and not disrupt the exams.
In truth, though, we’ve never done that before. So, it would be quite a big step. We don’t want to take it but I’m saying at this point that we’re not ruling anything out.
Courtney said that, for the union to call of its strike, the government would have open serious talks about a compromise pay offer. He said:
We will stop … if there are talks that we judge to be serious, where the government is actually intending to make a move, not some dog and pony show where it’s just them trying to present themselves to the media as talking.
Nearly half of people in London hold the highest level of qualification, PA Media reports. PA says:
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed the regions in England and Wales with the highest proportion of people with no qualifications, as well as the areas with the most degree-educated residents.
More than one in five (21.1%) residents in the West Midlands – one million people – hold no qualifications, figures show.
Data from the 2021 census suggests the region with the highest percentage of the population with Level 4 or above qualifications – the highest level of qualification – was London with 46.7%.
Fire Brigades Union calls for 'mass movement of resistance' against anti-strikes bill
The anti-strikes bill being published today is aimed particularly at firefighters. Fire and rescue is one of the areas where minimum service levels will definitely be set; in other areas, the government says mandatory MSLs will just be a last resort, because it is hoping the voluntary agreements can be reached. (See 9.21am.)
Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said the bill was a “shameful attack” on democratic rights and he called for a “mass movement of resistance” against it. He said:
This represents one of the most shameful attacks on the democratic rights and liberties of working people in decades …
This is an attack on all workers – including key workers, who kept our public services going during the pandemic.
It’s an attack on Britain’s Covid heroes and on all workers. We need a mass movement of resistance to this authoritarian attack.
Matthew Taylor, the Conservatives’ former employment tsar, has accused Rishi Sunak of abandoning the party’s commitment to improving workers’ rights after a minister said many of the policies in the 2019 manifesto would not be implemented imminently. My colleague Kiran Stacey has the story here.
But Grant Shapps, the business secretary, was less happy on LBC to defend another newspaper front page.
Based on what Unite said it was told by Steve Barclay, the health secretary, in his meeting yesterday with unions about the strikes, the Daily Mirror says health workers were told to work harder if they wanted a pay rise.
Shapps said the Mirror was reporting a “one-sided description of the conversation”. He went on:
Nurses work incredibly hard, and actually because they are working incredibly hard and been under so much pressure through Covid nurses and, indeed, NHS workers, were the only part of the public service who got a pay rise last year when all the pay was being frozen.
Unite complained because Barclay raised the need for productivity improvements in the talks. But improving productivity is not necessarily the same as working longer hours.
Shapps defends hospitals putting patients in cabins in car parks as means of dealing with A&E overcrowding crisis
In an interview with LBC this morning Grant Shapps, the business secretary, defended the NHS’s decision to put temporary cabins in car parks for patients as a means of dealing with the A&E overcrowding service.
Yesterday the government said it was spending £50m in England “to expand hospital discharge lounges and ambulance hubs”. The Times says in practice this means some patients being put in cabins in hospital car parks.
In their splash story Kat Lay and Chris Smyth report:
NHS patients face being treated in temporary cabins set up in hospital car parks under plans to tackle the crisis in the health service …
[Steve Barclay, the health secretary, told MPs] the government would now fund “more physical capacity in and around emergency departments”, and said that temporary structures could provide this “in weeks not months”.
He said trusts could use their “discretion” on how to use the buildings to ease A&E pressures, which could include the creation of new “discharge lounges”. Such buildings are most likely to be set up in hospital car parks.
Asked about the story on LBC, Shapps said:
I’m in favour of the NHS doing whatever it needs to do to clear those backlogs. If that means temporary, modular, whatever, or using clinics closer to people or whatever else is required, I mean, for heaven’s sake, let’s get on and do those things.
TUC urges all MPs to vote against what it calls 'sack key workers bill'
The TUC has described the government’s anti-strike law as a “sack key wokers bill” and restated its claim that it will be “almost certainly illegal”. In a statement Paul Nowak, the new TUC general secretary, said:
This legislation would mean that when workers democratically vote to strike, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply.
That’s undemocratic, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal.
Conservative ministers have gone from clapping key workers to sacking key workers. They seem more interested in scheming up new draconian restrictions on the right to strike than addressing the real concerns of public sector workers.
Let’s be clear. If passed, this bill will prolong disputes and poison industrial relations – leading to more frequent strikes.
That’s why MPs must do the right thing and reject this cynical ‘sack key workers bill’.
Shapps says he hopes powers in new anti-strike bill will not have to be used
And here are some more lines from Grant Shapps’s interviews this morning about the strikes (minimum service levels) bill.
Shapps said that he hoped many of the powers in the bill would not actually be used. As the government explained in its briefing last week, the government will set minimum service levels for fire, ambulance and rail services. But in the other sectors (other areas of health, education, nuclear decommissioning and border security), although the government will legislate to give itself the power to impose minimum service levels, it will in the first instance try to negotiate voluntary agreements for these with unions. Shapps told the Today programme:
What I’m going to do in this legislation is take the primary power, if parliament grants it, but then in secondary – so this is a further stage of consultation if you like – allow each different area of public service to consult and decide how to actually implement this and over what period of time.
The ideal outcome would be to have the power but never need to use it, because I think anyone listening to this knows it’s reasonable to ask and expect, for example, the ambulance unions to agree to some sort of national level in return for what we fully support which is the right to strike.
He said, in the current dispute, the Royal College of Nursing agreed at a national level minimum safety levels. But he said the same did not happen with unions representing ambulance staff. (Those unions insist that minimum safety standards were agreed before their last strike, but on a local, case-by-case basis.)
He dismissed claims that the bill could increase the chances of nurses being sacked for going on strike. He told Times Radio:
This sort of talk that somebody will be sacked is no more true than it would be under any employment contract and that’s always the case when people have to stick to the law.
He stressed that the government was not banning strikes in the emergency services (even though this is what some people were calling for when the bill was being drafted).
Grant Shapps rejects government’s own assessment that anti-strike bill could lead to more strikes
Good morning. Last week the government published details of its planned anti-strike bill, which will require unions to maintain minimum services levels in transport, health, education, fire and rescue, nuclear decommissioning and border security when strikes are taking place. It is highly controversial and today Grant Shapps, the business secretary, is publishing the actual bill.
It is called the strikes (minimum service levels) bill. Ministers have been arguing that it is all about minimum safety levels, but as the title of the bill shows, it is all about minimum service levels – which means it has wider application.
The legislation builds on measures set out in the transport strikes (minimum service levels) bill, which was published during Liz Truss’s short-lived premiership but which never got debated by MPs. (It has been superseded by the new bill.) In an official impact assessment of the Truss bill, the government warned that this measure could lead to “an increased frequency of strikes”. Another risk was unions staging more industrial action just short of a strike, the document said. (Or, in its own words, it said “a further significant unintended consequence of this policy could be the increase in staff taking action short of striking.”)
In an interview on the Today programme this morning, Shapps said he did not accept that the bill would make strikes more likely. When pressed on why the government’s own impact assessment said the opposite, he played down the significance of the document. He said:
Well, impact assessments do the job of, if you like, having a look all around and seeing, what would be the risks, what are the opportunities and so they often say these things.
He also claimed that legislation of this kind worked effectively in other countries.
When it was put to him that the government was ignoring its own assessment of what these laws would do, Shapps said the government had “taken note of that research and looked at how we can best introduce those measures”.
I will post more from his morning interview round shortly.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Rishi Sunak chairs cabinet.
9.45am: Andrew Griffith, a Treasury minister, gives evidence to the Treasury committee on the cryptocurrency industry.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
11.30am: Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow work and pensions secretary, gives a speech on Labour plans intended to get more older people, and people with medical conditions, back into work.
11.30am: Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and deputy PM, takes justice questions in the Commons.
12pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, visits an energy research centre ahead of the publication of the Scottish government’s energy strategy.
At some point today the government is publishing its strikes (minimum service levels) bill. And Steve Barclay, the health secretary, is visiting a 111 call centre.
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