RCN accuse government of ‘belligerence’ as talks to avert strike action fail; Wales strikes to go ahead – as it happened

Last modified: 08: 32 PM GMT+0

Royal College of Nursing says Steve Barclay refused to discuss pay at meeting on Monday; Welsh nurses to strike after last-minute talks fail. This blog is now closed

Evening summary


The current prolonged cold snap could prompt a sharp increase in excess deaths this winter as financial worries force vulnerable households to skimp on heating, charities have warned.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition fears there will be fatal consequences of people economising on heating, as forecasters predict the UK will be hit by sub-zero temperatures for the rest of the week.

Simon Francis, the group’s coordinator said: “People are now literally choosing between heating and dying. We obviously understand the financial pain that everyone is going through, but you can recover from debt, you can’t recover from dying. If people don’t have their heating on, they will end up at the doors of the NHS or even worse.”

Each year there are on average about 10,000 excess deaths caused by cold and damp homes. Francis fears there will be a record increase in such deaths this year because so many are struggling to pay bills.

Read more: Excess deaths could rise as vulnerable skimp on heating, UK charities warn


RCN accuse government of 'belligerence' as talks to avert strike action fail

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary, Pat Cullen, said the health secretary, Steve Barclay, refused to discuss pay with her at their meeting this evening.

Up to 100,000 nurses are expected to take part in the first of a series of strikes across 53 NHS organisations in England on Thursday.

In a statement, Cullen said:

The government was true to its word - they would not talk to me about pay. I needed to come out of this meeting with something serious to show nurses why they should not strike this week. Regrettably, they are not getting an extra penny.

Ministers had too little to say and I had to speak at length about the unprecedented strength of feeling in the profession.

I expressed my deep disappointment at the belligerence – they have closed their books and walked away.


Nursing strikes will go ahead in Wales

Nursing strikes are set to go ahead in Wales after last-minute talks to resolve the dispute over pay collapsed, PA reports.

The Welsh government and a number of unions – including the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) – met on Monday afternoon, but failed to reach an agreement.

In July, following the recommendation of the NHS pay review body, a flat pay increase of £1,400 was announced for nurses, cleaners, porters, healthcare support workers and healthcare professionals, on most Agenda for Change pay bands.

However, unions have repeatedly argued that the pay rise, which is as much as 10.8% for those in the lowest paid roles, was not enough.

The RCN’s Wales director, Helen Whyley, accused the government of being “reckless” with patient safety and of calling a meeting despite them having “no intention of coming to a resolution”.

The first nurse strike will take place on 15 December, and should no resolution be found afterwards, a second strike day will take place on 20 December.


Almost a third of TransPennine Express train services have been cancelled on a “dreadful” first full day of a winter timetable that is supposed to improve connectivity on key rail routes.

The timetable should have meant hundreds of extra trains added to Britain’s beleaguered rail network, including the resumption of three services an hour to and from Manchester to London on Avanti West Coast.

Labour said the “shambles” on Monday was entirely predictable and showed the government had been “staggeringly incompetent” in its dealings with the worst performing companies.

Ministers must remove the contracts from failing operators, the shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, said.

Read more: Third of TransPennine trains cancelled on first day of timetable to add services

Oliver Dowden, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, has urged the unions to call off strikes to prevent disruption after he chaired a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee this evening.

PA reports he said the government is working to deal with the disruption but added to broadcasters:

I would say, though, that the single best thing that can be done to minimise those risks - we can’t eliminate them all together - is for the strikes to be called off and for those unions to once again engage with the employers.

It’s only fair and reasonable at a time when people are struggling both with the consequences of the situation in Russia and Ukraine, as we emerge from Covid, and indeed this winter, I don’t think most people think it’s fair and reasonable to undertake these strikes.

My message to them, even now, is please call them off.

RCN 'quite likely' to walk out of Barclay meeting if it does not focus on pay

Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing’s director in England, said it’s “quite likely” the union will walk out of a meeting with health secretary Steve Barclay if it does not focus on pay.

Barclay was due to meet the union at 6pm, however earlier today at the No 10 lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesperson said the government’s position on nurses pay “has not changed”.

Talking to Sky News just minutes before the meeting was due to begin and asked if the union would walk out if the discussion does not focus on nurses pay, Marquis said:

I think that is quite likely as there is no further conversation to be had. As you’ve heard before we’ve already met with Steve Barclay, once on our own and once with the other trade unions and had the same conversation around him not being prepared to talk about pay but he’’ll talk about something else.

Marquis added she was “deeply disappointed” the health secretary and the government can continue to be so “rude” and “disrespectful” to people “trying hard to deliver what patients want”.


Two major health unions in Scotland have called off strike action after narrowly voting for an upgraded pay offer following ministerial intervention.

Unite and Unison, which represent tens of thousands of NHS and Scottish ambulance service staff, said their members had agreed to a fresh offer that will give the lowest-paid staff up to £2,751, up by 11.24%, with most staff paid £2,205, up 7.5%, and a new minimum hourly rate of £11.09.

The deal, brokered by Scottish ministers, raises the prospect that Scotland’s hospitals will escape industrial action this winter and adds to the pressure on UK government ministers to intervene in pay disputes expected to hit the NHS across the rest of the UK this month.

Read more: Health unions call off strike action in Scotland after new pay offer

The wave of strikes across the country will continue into 2023 unless the government changes tack and engages in “meaningful pay talks with unions”, the TUC warned this evening.

PA reports that the union body accused the government of refusing to engage in good faith on pay, “stonewalling” negotiations and hiding behind pay review bodies.

The TUC’s general secretary Frances O’Grady said:

Nobody goes on strike lightly, but working people have been pushed to breaking point.

Millions of key workers across the public sector have endured more than a decade of pay cuts and across Britain, working families are suffering the longest and harshest wage squeeze in more than 200 years.

That’s why this wave of strike action will continue into 2023 - unless ministers do the right thing and engage in meaningful pay talks with unions.

For too long, ministers have been stonewalling negotiations and hiding behind pay review bodies. They are more interested in playing political football with disputes than resolving them.

Unions stand ready to meet and find a solution. But the Conservatives must stop sabotaging efforts to reach settlements.

If we see more industrial action, it is because of their intransigence. Instead the Government must come to the table and negotiate.

No 10 suggests Barclay won't negotiate on pay in talks with RCN this evening

At the afternoon No 10 lobby briefing, asked about Steve Barclay’s meeting with the RCN tonight, the PM’s spokesperson said: “I think he’s been clear that he’s always willing to meet with the Royal College of Nursing.”

But the spokesperson also played down the prospect of Barclay being willing to negotiate on pay – the condition set by the RCN for its strike to be called off. The spokesperson said:

The position on pay has not changed – that’s rightly for an independent review body to decide.

That’s all from me for today. My colleague Joe Middleton is now taking over.


Boris Johnson calls for Ukraine to be supplied with long-range missiles

Boris Johnson called on defence secretary Ben Wallace in the Commons to arm Ukraine with long-range ATACMS missiles to “take out” the launch sites of Russian drones and missiles that are currently battering the country’s civilians and its power grid.

The former prime minister publicly lobbied for the missiles, long sought by the Ukrainians, which have a range of up to 300km, but so far the US and its allies, including the UK, have declined to supply because they could be used to hit targets inside Russia.

Speaking at defence questions in the Commons, Johnson asked:

Does [Wallace] agree with me that we and our allies must help our Ukrainian friends not just to take out the drones and missiles, and that means supplying them with anti-aircraft systems and fixed-wing aircraft to help shoot them down, but also to take out the launch sites of those missiles and drones by supplying the Ukrainians with the use of longer-range missile systems such as ATACMS because that is the way truly to protect our Ukrainian friends and to bring the war to an end as soon as possible?

In reply, Wallace was careful not to rule anything out, although in reality unless the White House changes its mind, it is unlikely the British minister can do much about it. After praising Johnson’s support for Ukraine when he was in No 10, Wallace said “the mass targeting of civilian critical infrastructure is not only a war crime, but is a war crime that we must see does not go unpunished.”

The defence secretary added that he reviewed constantly the “weapon systems we could provide” and suggested that continued targeting of the electricity grid by Russia may prompt a change of policy. He went on:

Should the Russians continue to target civilian areas and try and break those Geneva Conventions, then I will be open-minded to seeing what we do next.

RMT's Mick Lynch says Network Rail offer rejected by 'huge' margin by his members

Back to the RMT, and its members voted by 63.6% to reject Network Rail’s pay offer, on an 83% turnout.

Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, said:

This is a huge rejection of Network Rail’s substandard offer and shows that our members are determined to take further strike action in pursuit of a negotiated settlement.

The government is refusing to lift a finger to prevent these strikes and it is clear they want to make effective strike action illegal in Britain.

We will resist that and our members, along with the entire trade union movement, will continue their campaign for a square deal for workers, decent pay increases and good working conditions.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) will now press ahead with two 48-hour strikes at Network Rail - and 14 train companies - from Tuesday and Friday.

As PA Media reports, the RMT will now now press ahead with two 48-hour strikes at Network Rail – and 14 train companies – from Tuesday and Friday. PA says:

Trains will run from 7.30am to 6.30pm on this week’s strike days, although many parts of the country will have no services, including most of Scotland and Wales.

A strike by members of Unite at Network Rail will not go ahead after they voted to accept the offer.

Network Rail had offered a 5% pay rise for this year - backdated to January - with another 4% at the start of 2023 and a guarantee of no compulsory job losses until January 2025.

The RMT’s executive recommended rejecting the offer, saying it was linked to “significant” changes to working practices.

RMT workers at Network Rail will also strike from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on 27 December.

Passengers planning to travel on Christmas Eve will likely be urged to complete their journeys by the time industrial action begins.

Rishi Sunak will take questions from the Commons liaison committee for the first time a week tomorrow, on 20 December, it has been announced.

The committee, which is made up of select committee chairs, normally has a session with the PM three times a year. Sunak will face questions on topics including foreign policy and the state of the economy.

Sturgeon says UK ministers should follow her example and use talks with unions to resolve disputes

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has urged Rishi Sunak and his UK government colleagues to follow her example and get involved in trying to resolve disputes with the public sector unions.

As STV reports, she said Scotland was likely to avoid health strikes this week, in part because the Scottish government has been actively involved in trying to reach a pay settlement. She said:

This week, Scotland is likely to be the only part of the UK that doesn’t have strikes in its NHS because we have sought to reach an agreement.

Unions are still balloting on these offers in Scotland but they are not striking this week because they recognise that the Scottish government has sat down and tried to deliver fairness.

The other difference between me and ministers at UK level is that I have a deep and very profound respect for trade unions and the role of collective bargaining.

We have not, unlike counterparts elsewhere, held back in these disputes. We have sought to maximise the pay increases we are giving and I would ask and hope that teachers, like in the NHS, will recognise that and that we seek to reach a resolution on that basis.

Sturgeon said it was wrong for UK government ministers to suggest that public sector workers were pushing up inflation. She said:

I think it is profoundly wrong for UK government ministers to say that public sector workers are responsible for the inflationary pressures we see or the wider economic issues we are dealing with. Partially because of the folly of Brexit, we have labour shortages across the public sector.

And she urged UK ministers to follow her example.

I would make a plea to the UK government today to get round the table with these workers in order to see these issues resolved.

Teachers in Scotland are still planning strike action for January, but Sturgeon said that she hoped that the latest pay off would be enough to avert this.

In the Commons earlier, when the SNP MP Steven Bonnar argued that UK ministers should follow Sturgeon’s example (see 3.56pm), Will Quince, the health minister, suggested that Sturgeon’s approach was flawed. Because of her involvement, health workers in Scotland had received “a considerably higher offer”, that went beyond what the pay review body had recommended, he said. He went on:

It’ll be interesting to see if the first minister of Scotland is going to do this every single year and go against the recommendations of their pay review body.

Quince also said every extra 1% in pay given to the Agenda for Pay workforce (health staff excluding doctors) cost £750m. That was money that could not be spent tackling waiting lists, he said.

And he said the whole point of having a pay review body was that “it depoliticises the issue, and you are not having ministers directly negotiating with unions”.

Rishi Sunak is facing a protest from some Conservative MPs over the lack of progress on the animal welfare (kept animals) bill.

The legislation, championed by Boris Johnson and his animal welfare campaigner wife Carrie, was supposed to be a ‘Brexit bonus’, banning live animal exports and cracking down on puppy smuggling.

It was first introduced in the 2021-22 session of parliament, and was carried over into this session in the spring. But since then it has been stalled, and Sunak is understood to be lukewarm about its measures because many of them go against his free trade instincts.

The letter, which is signed by MPs including former environment secretary George Eustice and Priti Patel, the former home secretary, states:

We … write to you today to request time is made for the animal welfare (kept animals) bill to return to parliament as soon as feasibly possible.

On live animal exports, it adds: “The introduction of such a policy would make Great Britain the first country in Europe to end the gruelling journeys farmed animals endure as they are transported overseas.”

The MPs point out the commitment was in the 2019 manifesto and so “must be honoured”.

The letter has been organised by the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, one of whose patrons is Carrie Johnson.

Unison says the UK government should follow the example of Scotland, where Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, was involved in talks that contributed to a revised pay offer leading to health strikes being called off. (See 3.51pm.) Commenting on the outcome in Scotland, Sara Gorton, Unison’s head of health, said:

Ministers in Scotland have done what the Westminster government is stubbornly refusing to do. That’s talk to health unions, put improved wage offers on the table and avert strikes across the NHS.

The secretary of state needs to up his game and see what talking can achieve. Steve Barclay must now call the unions in to discuss improving health worker pay. Only then might the threat of disruption facing the NHS this winter be lifted.

RMT rail strike set to go ahead after members reject pay offer from Network Rail

Members of the RMT have rejected their most recent pay offer from Network Rail, and will go ahead with their strikes, later this week, the union has announced.

This comes as no surprise. Last week the union leadership described the offer as unacceptable, and said that it expected its Network Rail members to reject it in a ballot.


Back in the Commons, Steven Bonnar, the SNP’s spokesperson, said that health strikes had been called off in Scotland because the Scottish government had made a revised pay offer. He said that was because the Scottish government got involved.

In response, Will Quince, the health minister, said the Scottish offer was more generous than the one made in England. That was what happened when politicians got involved in the pay talks, he said. He asked if Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, was going to do this every time there was a pay dispute.

Unite and Unison call off strike for health staff in Scotland after getting revised pay offer

Two major health unions in Scotland have called off potential strike action in hospitals and ambulance services after narrowly voting to accept a revised pay offer, raising the prospect the NHS in Scotland may escape industrial action this winter.

Unite and Unison, which represent tens of thousands of NHS and Scottish ambulance service staff, said their members had accepted a fresh pay offer which will give the lowest paid staff up to £2,751, up by 11.24%, with most paid £2,205, up 7.5%, and a new minimum hourly rate of £11.09.

The Royal College of Nursing Scotland, which has an unprecedented mandate from its members to call strike action, is consulting its members on a revised pay offer and is due to announce the results next week. The Royal College of Midwives in Scotland, which has also threatened strike action, is due to announce the results of its ballot on the revised offer on Thursday.

The trend in Scotland towards resolving NHS strikes following ministerial interventions is in striking contrast to the impasse with the NHS in England, where ministers have refused to intervene, despite requests from the unions to mediate. RCN members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are due to strike on Thursday 15 December and Tuesday 20 December.

Scottish ministers have complained they are too cash-strapped to meet the hefty pay demands of public sector unions, but Scottish public services are, on a per-capita basis, better funded than in most other parts of the UK.

Wilma Brown, chair of Unison’s Scotland’s health committee, said this deal was a “pause” in the ongoing dispute over NHS funding. She said:

Whilst this decision ends the immediate threat of industrial action, it is not a win for government – it is a warning … Almost half of Unison NHS staff voted to reject this latest pay offer, and many who did vote to accept, did so reluctantly.

There is a staffing crisis in the NHS. The health service is consistently understaffed and under-resourced and every day staff are expected to deliver more with less.


RCN says it is due to hold meeting with Steve Barclay later today

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, is due to hold a meeting with the Royal College of Nursing later today, the RCN has said. This is from BBC’s Hugh Pym reports.

Royal College of Nursing to meet Health Secretary Steve Barclay later today: RCN spokesperson: "We have replied positively to his email and we will attend in the hope the government is now serious about negotiating."

— Hugh Pym (@BBCHughPym) December 12, 2022

Streeting accuses ministers of allowing NHS strikes to go ahead so that nurses can take blame for health service failings

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, says responsibility for these strikes lies with the government.

The Royal College of Nursing has said it will call of its strike if the government is willing to negotiate over pay, he says. He says that is a “reasonable offer”, he says.

He says that after 12 years of Tory government, patients are no longer seen on time and the NHS has been pushed to breaking point. He says ministers know that patients are going to suffer this winter, and so it is letting the strikes take place so that nurses and paramedics than take the blame. It is a “disgusting” plan, he says.

He says Steve Barclay should be embarrassed asking the army to step in to cover up for his embarrassment.


Government 'deeply concerned' about risks NHS strikes pose to patients, health minister Will Quince tells MPs

In the Commons Will Quince, the health minister, is responding to Wes Streeting’s urgent question about the NHS strikes.

He says he is answering because Steve Barclay, the health secretary, is attending this afternoon’s Cobra meeting devoted to contingency planning for the strikes.

He says ministers are “deeply concerned'” about the risks strikes pose to patients.

But people should continue to come forward for treatment if they need it.

He says it is “inevitable” some patients will have treatment delayed.

Labour is pushing for last-minute amendments to the government’s plans to introduce voter identification before the local elections in May, but will not back a Liberal Democrat plan to kill it off in the Lords.

Party officials said they wanted ministers to investigate voter suppression at the next round of local elections, and to set up a special committee to look at the possible impact of the new rules in May, before pressing ahead. The Electoral Commission has told the Financial Times that the rapid implementation of the controversial scheme could mean the new system would not be “accessible, secure and workable”.

Campaigners and shadow ministers are particularly concerned that certain forms of ID such as photographic travel passes will be accepted for over-60s, but not for younger people.

But Labour believes that the Lib Dems cannot win a so-called “fatal motion” in the Lords to kill the bill off entirely, and so is pushing its own “regret motion”, which would have no direct impact on the legislation itself.


Steve Barclay's response to NHS pay dispute 'a complete joke', says Labour's Wes Streeting

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, has described Steve Barclay’s response to the NHS pay dispute “a complete joke”.

Referring to the health secretary’s refusal to talk to the Royal College of Nursing about pay, Streeting said:

The nurses are offering to negotiate. The only thing they’ve said is they want to talk about pay. That’s all they’ve said. The door is open, and for the government to refuse to sit down and even talk for even a minute of negotiations, knowing that doing so will avert strike action is deeply irresponsible.

And if patients suffer disruption this week as they will if strikes go ahead, they will know it’s Conservative ministers to blame, not the nurses.

Steve Barclay’s, the health secretary’s, reaction to the strike has been a complete joke.

Streeting also accused Barclay of “spoiling for a fight”. He explained:

I think the government’s stubborn refusal to engage in serious negotiations shows they are spoiling for a fight. They want to blame nurses, blame paramedics, blame NHS staff for challenges in the national health service which are the direct fault and responsibility of 12 years of Conservative mismanagement – frankly, I think it’s disgusting.

Streeting was speaking during a visit to Lister hospital in Stevenage with Keir Starmer.

Keir Starmer and Wes Streeting inspecting a robot that is capable of surgical procedures on patients, during their visit to the Lister Hospital in Stevenage.
Keir Starmer and Wes Streeting inspecting a robot that is capable of surgical procedures on patients, during their visit to the Lister hospital in Stevenage. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA


Heathrow says Britons able to use passport e-gates on arrival should be 'largely unaffected' by Border Force strike

Heathrow has announced it is doing “everything we can” to ensure no flights are cancelled due to Border Force strikes, PA Media reports. It is one of six UK airports where Border Force workers will strike from 23 December, PA says.

In a statement Heathrow said:

We are doing everything we can to protect a full flight schedule on strike days, so departing passengers should expect to travel as normal.

Arriving passengers with UK, EU, US, Canadian and some other passports will be able to use e-gates as usual and their journeys should be largely unaffected on strike days.

Border Force has contingency measures to ensure other arriving passengers are cleared safely and as quickly as possible.

We are continuing to support them to strengthen these plans so that as few people are impacted as possible.

If passengers who cannot use e-gates are concerned about travelling during the strikes, their airline may be able to offer them alternative travel dates.

This announcement will not reassure families arriving with children under the age of 12, because generally they cannot use e-gates.

And the Home Office and Border Force said in a joint statement:

Those who are due to travel into the UK during the proposed industrial action should be prepared to face longer wait times at UK border control.

Please be patient and respect officers who are working to keep our citizens safe and border secure, and supporting travellers during the strike action.


There will be two urgent questions in the Commons later. At 3.30pm Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, will ask about government preparation for the NHS strikes. And that will be followed by a UQ about British Council contractors in Afghanistan, tabled by the Conservative John Baron.

Ambulance services face 'serious disruption' during strike, even though military will be helping, No 10 says

And here are some more lines from the Downing Street lobby briefing.

We are not seeking to impose government over and above either the independent pay review process or ongoing discussions between employers and the unions. We won’t be changing the process.

  • The spokesperson confirmed that Steve Barclay, the health secretary, is not willing to hold fresh talks with the Royal College of Nursing about pay.

  • The spokesperson said that, even though armed forces personnel will be helping out when ambulance staff go on strike, that would not prevent “serious disruption” to the service. The spokesperson signalled that the soldiers would focus on logistical task, so that those ambulance staff who are working will be free to focus on patients. Talking about what the military would do, he said:

We recognise their skill-sets will be different but they can help alleviate pressures to free up paramedics and other people with the necessary skills so they can carry on treating patients and get where they need to be …

Clearly we are not suggesting that there won’t be serious disruption caused by strikes. These individuals are going to be extremely helpful in mitigating some of that disruption, but nonetheless, it will have an impact.

The spokesperson also confirmed that members of the armed forces would step in when Border Force staff went on strike. But he would not say how many armed forces personnel would be involved, arguing that the “full scale” of the strike action was not yet known.

Six hundred military personnel from all three armed forces will start training to drive ambulances to cover for striking NHS workers later this month. A further 150 are being readied to act as logistical support, defence sources said, with training for both groups to start “shortly”.

The figure is slightly higher than indications given by Downing Street overnight, where it was implied that around 400 members of the armed forces would prepare to take on the work in the run-up to Christmas. Military will be engaged in “non-clincial support,” it is understood.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “The MoD has accepted a request from Department of Health and Social Care under the Military Aid to Civil Authorities process.”

Military aid can be authorised when “there is a definite need to act,” other options have been discounted and the civil authority does not have an alternative way of coping.


No 10 defends contentious claim public sector pay demands would cost £28bn - but drops suggestion this would all be 'extra'

At the No 10 lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson also defended the government’s claim that meeting public sector union pay demands in full would cost £28bn – although he dropped the claim that this could cost every family in the UK an “extra” £1,000 on top of what is already planned.

Rishi Sunak used the figure on Friday, saying that ordinary families would have to pay “an extra £1,000 a year” if the government gave into unions’ public sector pay demands. That figure is based on the £28bn cost being shared equally among all households in the UK. Other ministers have used the figures, but without always describing them as “extra” to what has already been planned.

As this BBC Reality Check analysis explains, there are various objections to the £28bn and £1,000 per family figures, of which one of the main ones is that they do not make allowance for the fact that the government has already committed to giving public sector workers pay rises worth around 3% on average.

Asked to defend the figure, the PM’s spokesperson said £28bn was the estimated cost of giving all public sector pay workers an 11% pay rise in 2023-24. But he conceded that this was a figure that would include the sums already allocated for public sector pay rises. He said:

We are not talking about giving two different pay rises. It would depend on what the overarching average of the pay rise was. If it was 11%, it would be £28bn.


Here is a Guardian graphic showing what strikes are taking place when this month.



No 10 says talk of unions coordinating strikes 'concerning' and does not rule out clampdown on this with new law

At the lobby briefing this morning No 10 said it was “concerning” that unions across different sectors seem to be coordinating strike action, and would not rule out including measures to address this in the forthcoming anti-union legislation.

Sharon Graham, the Unite general secretary, recently said the unions were engaged in “real industrial coordination across our employers, across our sectors, across our industries” and this is a matter of increasing concern to Tory MPs. On the Westminster Hour last night Damian Green, the former first secretary of state, said that the unions were trying to organise “a quasi-general strike” and that this was something that “needs to be resisted by everyone who cares about democracy”.

Asked if Rishi Sunak shared this concern, the PM’s spokesperson told journalists:

It is concerning to hear talk of coordinated actions. It only seeks to exacerbate the misery it inflicts upon the public. But that is fundamentally a decision for unions.

We think we are acting reasonably in accepting the recommendations of the independent pay bodies.

Sunak has already said he is planning “tough” new legislation to guarantee minimum public services continue during strikes. Asked if this could include measures to stop unions coordinating their strikes, the spokesperson said he would not get into speculation about what the new powers might entail.

I will post more from the briefing shortly.


Health staff in Northern Ireland stage 24-hour strike

Health workers from three of Northern Ireland’s largest unions have begun a 24-strike in an escalation of their ongoing protest at pay and conditions, PA Media reports. PA says:

Members from Unison, Nipsa and GMB have taken to picket lines at hospitals and other health service facilities across the region.

Later this week, nurses will strike in Northern Ireland as part of the UK-wide action by the Royal College of Nursing on Thursday.

Last week, Stormont’s Department of Health announced that healthcare workers in the region would receive a pay rise recommended by independent salary review bodies.

Unions said the increase was not enough and insisted the strike action would continue.

The delayed pay rise move came after civil servants secured the legislative authority to make decisions on pay amid Stormont’s political impasse.

Decisions on other public sector employees, such as teachers, civil servants and police, are awaited.

The majority of health workers are to receive at least an additional £1,400 in pay while doctors and dentists will be given a 4.5% rise.

The increases will come into effect before the end of the financial year and be backdated to 1 April this year.

The separate independent recommendations were made by the NHS pay review body and review body on doctors’ and dentists’ remuneration.

The announcement was always unlikely to have affected the industrial action planned by health workers, as NHS colleagues in Great Britain have voted to strike having already received the 2022/23 rises.

The lack of a devolved executive at Stormont had prevented the awards being made in Northern Ireland before the UK government intervened last month to pass a budget for Stormont and hand civil servants extra powers.

Unison members on a picket line outside the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, where they are on strike today.
Unison members on a picket line outside the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast, where they are on strike today. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA


'In capitals, in bold ... tattooing it on my forehead' - Starmer stresses his total opposition to doing deal with SNP

This is what Keir Starmer said in his LBC phone-in when he was asked if he would do a deal with the SNP if that was necessary to form a government after the election. He said:

We are not doing a deal with the SNP. I say that in capitals, I say it in bold, I said it at my party conference, I’ve said it many times before and since.

When asked if he would stick to that position even if it meant the Tories being able to continue in office, he replied:

We are not borrowing seats from the SNP and getting over the line. No deal.

The SNP will have to make their minds up. If they want to bring down an incoming Labour government, and prop up a Tory government, then that’s their choice, and that’s what they will have to sell back in Scotland. Good luck with that one.

But this is fundamental to me. Running through the SNP is their mission to break up the United Kingdom and for Scotland to become independent. I fundamentally disagree. I believe in our union of nations, not just because of what we’ve achieved historically together, but because of what we will achieve in the future. And if I look at the big challenges of our time, whether it’s Ukraine and security, whether it’s a pandemic whether it’s how we grow our economy, the climate crisis, these are issues which will be better met as a union of four nations going forward together.

So absolutely no deal with the SNP.

I know what’s going to happen as we get towards the election. There will be lots of graphs saying this number of seats, that number of seats. That’s why I’m saying up front, tattooing it my forehead, no to deal with the SNP. We are not going to do it.

There is nothing new about this position, but rarely has Starmer expressed his opposition to a deal with the SNP so bluntly.

Keir Starmer doing his LBC phone-in.
Keir Starmer doing his LBC phone-in. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA


My colleague Archie Bland has a good analysis of some of the claims made about the current round of strikes in his First Edition briefing this morning.

Here is an extract from what he says about claims that the pay demands are unaffordable (see 9.23am) or inflationary (see 10.19am.)

One way to get at the question of affordability is to examine the government’s claims of the cost to taxpayers. Rishi Sunak claims that it would cost about £1,000 extra per household to give pay rises offsetting 10% inflation this year. But Ben Zaranko of the Institute for Fiscal Studies points out in this BBC Reality Check piece that once you factor in the 3% average pay rises for public sector workers already budgeted for 2022-23, the real “extra” cost is around £640 per household, about a third of which would be returned in tax.

The question of whether a bit over £400 per household is affordable – with the greatest burden falling on the richest – is ultimately a political judgment. We can also ask whether it is true, as is often claimed, that pay rises will stoke inflation. This piece by Richard Partington yesterday argues that fears a “wage-price spiral” is under way are overplayed. The Bank of England estimates holding overall wage growth to 2.5% could reduce inflation by 1.5 percentage points – “a drop in the ocean” compared to the impact of soaring energy prices.

RCN likely to pause strike action if government opens 'realistic, honest talks' on pay, says nurses' leader

In her interview with ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Pat Cullen, the RCN general secretary, also restated a version of her offer, first made in the Observer, to pause this week’s strike in return for the opening of genuine talks with ministers on pay. She said:

If [Steve Barclay, the health secretary] gets round a table with us and has realistic, honest talks, there’s a strong possibility that I will be able to go back to my council and say: ‘I recommend that we avert the strikes and continue those negotiations’. And I would also say the council would most certainly not be unreasonable about that.

Asked if she was prepared to consider an offer that is lower than the money that the RCN has asked for, she said:

It would not be for me to negotiate on the airwaves, I’m definitely not going to do that. That’s for myself and the health secretary, or through conciliation with Acas to get around a table, but we will not be found wanting in getting in there and having those discussions.


Pat Cullen, the Royal College of Nursing’s general secretary, told ITV this morning that there was no point talking to Steve Barclay, the health secretary, if he was not prepared to discuss pay. She said

What I’m saying … to the health secretary this morning, is if you don’t want to speak to me directly about nurses’ pay, we have engaged with the conciliation service Acas, they can do that through Acas, but our door is absolutely wide open and it appears at the minute that theirs is totally shut …

Fundamentally, I need to get to a table and talk to them about pay. This isn’t just me, it’s the 320,000 nurses that voted for strike action … They voted through an independent ballot that we carried out and surely to goodness you couldn’t look at one of those people this morning in the eye and say: ‘You’re not worth an extra brown penny’. In my mind they absolutely are.


Economic outlook 'likely to get worse before it gets better', says Hunt

In his Sky News interview, referring to today’s growth figures, Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, also said the general economic outlook was “likely to get worse before it gets better”. He said:

I think it’s a very challenging international picture. About a third of the world’s economies are predicted to be in recession, either this year or next.

We’re no different in this country and truthfully, it is likely to get worse before it gets better, which makes it even more difficult when we have big public sector strikes going on at the moment.

My colleague Graeme Wearden has more on this on his business live blog.


Hunt says he accepts RCN's stance on pay 'completely sincere' - but says government has duty to fight inflation

Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, gave an interview to Sky News this morning about the latest growth figures and he defended the government’s decision not to reopen talks with the Royal College of Nursing on pay.

But he did make a point of describing the RCN’s position as “completely sincere” – which at least made him sound somewhat sympathetic to them. He said:

My number one responsibility as chancellor, the number one job of the government, is to make sure that we tackle inflation, and that will deal – I think – with the underlying anger that many people feel …

We have to be very careful, we recognise the position that unions hold is completely sincere, because of the challenge of 11% inflation.

On the other hand, we also have a sincerely held position, which is that we don’t want to do anything that would lock in that high inflation rate for a long time to come.


Q: Should Gareth Southgate go or stay?

Starmer said Southgate should stay. He had done a “really good job”, and he was someone “who leads from the front”.

That’s it. The Starmer phone-in is over.

Starmer restated his opposition to doing an electoral deal with the SNP. He said this was something he had “tatooed on my forehead” because it mattered so much. Asked if he would rather see the SNP propping up a Tory government, Starmer said that would be a choice for them.


Q: I was horrifed with the plan to abolish the VAT exemption on private schools. It will harm disadvantaged backgrounds who get scholarship.

Starmer said he wanted to improve standards in state schools. That would cost money. Every Labour policy has to be funded, he said. The tax break for private schools could not be justified.

He said the revenue from putting VAT on private school fees would go directly into state schools.

Q: But you are still penalising people from disadvantaged backgrounds. It would be more consistent to close all private schools.

Starmer said he did not want to do that.

Q: In the Commons you mentioned talked about the facilities at Winchester, Rishi Sunak’s school. Can you name the school with 32 acres of grounds, a concert hall and a pottery studio?

Starmer said he could not, but he guessed that Nick Ferrari was talking about Reigate grammar school. He said it was a grammar school when he want there, and he left as a grammar school pupil. It became fee-paying (while Starmer was a pupil, although as an existing pupil his family never had to pay fees), and Starmer said its facilities may have got better since he left.

Q: Would you back Bob Seely’s proposal for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to lose their royal titles?

Starmer said it was best for politicians not to weigh in on this story. He said he did not think Seely’s bill would ever be put to a vote.


Q: How many peers have you created since you became Labour leader?

Starmer said around a dozen.

Q: It is around 16. Why did you increase the number of Labour peers when your manifesto said you would abolish it.

Starmer said he does want to abolish the Lords. But until that happens, it has work to do, he said.

Q: If it is elected, you will lose the expertise that is in there.

Starmer said there are some very good people there. But it has more than 800 members.

Q: So why did you add to them?

Starmer said he needed working Labour peers in the Lords.

Starmer says Streeting was right to criticise BMA for its opposition to longer surgery opening hours

Q: [From a nurse] Where do you stand on the nurses strike. MPs have had a big pay rise over the past decade, whereas nurses have had very little over the last decade.

Starmer started by thanking the caller for her work. He said he wanted to see nurses paid well. Under the last Labour government, there was fair pay for nurse, and no strikes.

He said 19% was “more than can be afforded by the government”.

Q: Wes Streeting said the NHS needs to reform or die. Do you agree?

Yes, said Starmer. He said it needed to reform.

We are all living longer. That needs there must be more focus on prevention, he said.

He said he wanted to double the number of medical staff being trained.

Q: Streeting said the BMA did patients no favours when they voted against longer opening hours for GPs. Do you agree?

Yes, Starmer said. He said 9-5 opening hours were unrealistic.

Starmer accuses ministers of 'profound lack of leadership' on nursing strike, while calling RCN pay demand unaffordable

Keir Starmer has been on LBC doing his regular ‘Call Keir’ phone-in.

Q: I don’t seen any sense of politicians showing a sense of duty. They should put the country first. Will Labour stand up to the unions and prevent strikes ruining society. President Putin must welcome this.

Starmer said unions did not want to go on strike. The nurses have never held a strike before.

He said it was “bizarre” that the government is refusing to negotiate with the nurses, when they say they are willing to pause their strike if talks resume.

The government are “stitting on their hands”, he says.

For the government to sit this out with two or three days to go, I think shows a profound lack of leadership. We need the government to get around the table.

He said as head of the CPS he had to negotiate with two unions. That is what he did.

Q: Why should people be guaranteed a pay rise every year? If you are in sales, you don’t get that. Putin is rubbing his hands over this.

Starmer said it was very hard to say to nurses they should not get a pay rise. However, he added:

I do accept that what they are asking for is probably more than can be afforded.


Steve Barclay restates opposition to reopening talks with RCN on pay as Tory health committee chair says that's mistake

Good morning. Steve Barclay, the health secretary, was on BBC Breakfast this morning for an interview that was primarily about an announcement that the government is spending £50m on motor neurone disease (MND) research. But he was also asked about the nurses’ strike, of course, and he stuck to his position that, while he is happy to meet the Royal College of Nursing, he will not reopen talks on their pay offer.

He claimed that there were 7 million people waiting for an operation, and he said that if the nurses got more money, there would be less available to bring down the waiting list backlog. He said:

I don’t want to be taking money away from clearing the … backlog, which is what we would have to do, we’d have to take money away from patients waiting for operations to then fund additional pay.

And if everyone on the public sector were to get an increase in line with inflation, that would be costing £28bn at a time when the government has to get inflation under control, because that is the biggest factor in terms of people’s cost of living.

Both of the figures quoted by Barclay were misleading. It is not surprising that he claimed giving all public sector workers a pay rise in line with inflation would cost £28bn; although widely criticised by experts as misleading, it is an agreed figure ministers have been using. But Barclay also claimed the hospital waiting list figures show 7 million people are waiting for an operation, when journalists who cover these statistics are routinely told not to use that description. These are people waiting for an appointment related to treatment, and many of them won’t need an operation.

But Steve Brine, the Conservative chair of the Commons health committee, also gave an interview this morning, and he told the Today programme that, in refusing to meet the RCN, Barclay was making a mistake. Referring to the offer by the RCN to pause the strikes if Barclay were willing to reopen talks on pay, Brine said:

I started by saying it was 1-0 to the RCN with the move they made yesterday. I would suggest that the secretary of state could get to 1-1 by inviting them in and actually I’m not sure that he’s got an awful lot to lose.

You know, draw-draw better than war-war, and at the moment we’re in a media war-war and the patients, the public who pay for this service are just sort of left bemused in the middle.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9am: Keir Starmer holds his LBC ‘Call Keir’ phone-in.

10am: James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, gives a speech. As my colleague Patrick Wintour reports, he will say the government will target a group of about two dozen middle-level countries for long-term diplomatic partnerships in what marks a downgrade of a commitment to human rights as a prerequisite for close relations with the UK.

11.30am: Downing Street holds its morning lobby briefing.

After 3.30pm: MPs debate the remaining stages of the trade (Australia and New New Zealand) bill.

4pm: Tracy Brabin, mayor of West Yorkshire, Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, and Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands, give evidence to the Commons levelling up committee about levelling up funding.

At some point today Oliver Dowden, the Cabinet Office meeting, will be chairing a Cobra meeting to discuss government contingency planning for the strikes taking place this week.

And Kemi Badenoch, the international trade secretary, will be in India for talks on the proposed free trade deal with India.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions and, if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com.



Joe Middleton (now); Andrew Sparrow (earlier)

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Government accused of insulting workers as ministers hold talks with health, education and rail unions – as it happened
Nurses’ and ambulance strikes to go ahead after latest round of talks failed to make substantial progress

Andrew Sparrow

09, Jan, 2023 @6:16 PM

Article image
Nurses’ union to pause strike action while it holds ‘intensive talks’ with government on pay – as it happened
RCN suspends 48-hour strike in England planned for March with health secretary to meet union leaders

Andrew Sparrow

21, Feb, 2023 @6:09 PM

Article image
Sunak invites unions to talks on Monday as senior Tory calls on government to improve pay offer to nurses – as it happened
PM offers no hint he will compromise on pay offers as former cabinet minister says nurses key to dealing with NHS pressures

Andrew Sparrow

06, Jan, 2023 @5:07 PM

Article image
No 10 says Michelle Mone has lost Conservative whip ‘by default’ – as it happened
In taking leave of absence from Lords over PPE contracts allegations, Mone no longer a Tory peer, says PM’s spokesperson

Andrew Sparrow

07, Dec, 2022 @5:44 PM

Article image
More NHS staff to strike as Rishi Sunak confirms use of private healthcare – as it happened
Latest updates: physiotherapists the latest group to announce industrial action as PM says he is now registered with an NHS GP

Andrew Sparrow

11, Jan, 2023 @6:05 PM

Article image
Royal College of Nursing rejects government pay offer and announces new strike – as it happened
Royal College of Nursing members reject the pay offer after Unison votes to accept

Andrew Sparrow

14, Apr, 2023 @4:31 PM

Article image
Minister unable to say whether Zahawi was telling truth when he first said taxes were fully paid – as it happened
Labour MP asks whether Zahawi statement in the summer was untrue, with Cabinet Office minister saying he does not know the answer

Tom Ambrose and Andrew Sparrow

23, Jan, 2023 @8:23 PM

Article image
Sunak suggests MPs will vote on proposed NI protocol deal and accuses Starmer of wanting to ‘surrender’ to EU – as it happened
PM says Commons will be given a chance to ‘express its view’ on any final deal

Andrew Sparrow

22, Feb, 2023 @6:01 PM

Article image
Westminster’s move to block gender bill is ‘full-frontal attack’ on Scottish parliament, says Sturgeon – as it happened
Nicola Sturgeon says Scottish government will defend its legislation ‘and stand up for Scotland’s parliament’

Tom Ambrose and Andrew Sparrow

16, Jan, 2023 @8:42 PM

Article image
Scotland to raise income tax by 1p for those on over £43,666 to raise money for NHS – as it happened
Finance secretary says starter, basic and intermediate rates of income will stay the same

Andrew Sparrow

15, Dec, 2022 @4:26 PM