Government accused of insulting workers as ministers hold talks with health, education and rail unions – as it happened

Last modified: 06: 16 PM GMT+0

Nurses’ and ambulance strikes to go ahead after latest round of talks failed to make substantial progress. This live blog is now closed

Early evening summary

  • The former Tory minister Claire Perry has quit the party and is now publicly praising Keir Starmer, the Times’ Henry Zeffman reports.

EXCL: Former Theresa May minister and Cop26 chief Claire Perry O’Neill reveals she has quit the Tories as she lavishes praise on Keir Starmer

— Henry Zeffman (@hzeffman) January 9, 2023


Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, has put out a tweet welcoming what was in effect an endorsement from the Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh. (See 5.28pm.)

The Conservatives don’t have a plan for the NHS.

Labour do.

Don’t just take my word for it. They admit it themselves!

— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) January 9, 2023

Leigh is not the first Tory MPs to star in a Labour campaign advert. Labour has used Sir Charles Walker too, after a particularly memorable outburst.


Jane Merrick at the i says that one option for a potential compromise to resove the NHS strikes could be a decent pay rise for 2023-24 backdated to January 2023.

NEW: potential breakthrough in NHS strikes - ministers are considering a proposal to backdate next year's pay to this month - which could be enough to avert strike action later this month - by me in @theipaper

— Jane Merrick (@janemerrick23) January 9, 2023

In a Twitter thread on what has happened today, Rob Powell from Sky News also reports that a fudge of this kind is being considered. His thread starts here.

Health union talks... where are we?

There has been a definite softening in tone from govt, alongside an increased willingness to talk about pay with unions. Ministers are sticking to the line of not reopening the 2022/23 pay settlement though (more on that later).


— Rob Powell (@robpowellnews) January 9, 2023

This is what he says about a compromise.

One idea could be around cooking up a fudge whereby something is added into the 2023/24 packet that reflects union concerns about the current pay deal.

The obvious issues - would any offer be enough to placate union concerns... and is the money/political will there?


— Rob Powell (@robpowellnews) January 9, 2023

And this is his conclusion.

More broadly, it's not quite right to say today was more of the stalemate stand-off head butting that we've seen in recent months.

The tone and the material position has started altering from govt. Both sides are still a fair way apart though, so for now the strikes remain.


— Rob Powell (@robpowellnews) January 9, 2023


Branwen Jeffreys, the BBC’s education editor, says there was no progress on the issue of pay in the talks between Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, and the teaching unions today.

So the meetings today between the Education Secretary in England & education unions seem to have mainly involved the restating of existing positions - the government pointing to £22nd for schools in autumn statement and the unions to big real terms pay falls in last decade

— branwen jeffreys (@branwenjeffreys) January 9, 2023

Apologies for typo that’s £2bn in autumn statement - which by 2025 according to @TheIFS will restore per pupil spending to levels last seen in 2010-11

— branwen jeffreys (@branwenjeffreys) January 9, 2023

In the latest government statement @GillianKeegan is said to have “expressed the importance of working together to avoid strike action especially given the significant disruption due to the pandemic over recent years.” On the core issue of pay no suggestion of any movement

— branwen jeffreys (@branwenjeffreys) January 9, 2023


Tory MP Edward Leigh complains to Barclay that Labour has long-term plan for NHS 'and we don't'

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, is still responding to questions in the Commons on his statement, and generally Tory MPs have not been critical. But Sir Edward Leigh asked a withering question, saying that while Labour had a long-term plan for the NHS, the Tories didn’t. He said:

They also have Covid and flu in France or Germany or Italy or Sweden or Holland. And winter after winter they cope far better because they have much more integrated social insurance systems.

What is our long-term plan? We can’t leave the Labour party to have a long-term plan and we don’t. How are we going to reform this centrally controlled construct so the people of my age pay taxes all their life and their only right is enjoying the back of a two-year queue – what is his plan?

In response, Barclay said that the government already had an elective recovery plan and that it was working on a workforce plan. He suggested that the government’s performance than Labour-run Wales’s. And he insisted other European countries had similar problems too. He said:

Actually in France, in Germany, in Canada, in many other countries this massive spike in flu and Covid pressure combined with the pressures from the pandemic has placed similar strains on other healthcare systems.

Rail minister says talks with RMT about ending strike were 'constructive'

Huw Merriman, the rail minister, said his meeting with the RMT and train operators today about resolving the rail strike was “constructive”. He said:

Today’s meeting with RMT representatives and employers was constructive; we discussed the challenges facing the rail industry and the best ways to address them.

Passengers, businesses and those who value our railway want an end to these disruptive strikes, so the negotiating parties should now resume intensive talks to find a resolution.

Further talks are planned for later this week. (See 4.37pm.)

Thousands of patients could have their operation or outpatient appointment cancelled on Wednesday as a result of the ambulance strike that will affect much of England, hospital bosses

NHS Providers, which represents health service trusts in England, said that health service chiefs are “very disappointed” that the walkout, which will hit five of England’s ten regional ambulance services, is going ahead after the failure of this morning talks on NHS pay between health secretary Steve Barclay and 12 health unions.

Miriam Deakin, the director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said:

Leaders across the NHS will understandably be very disappointed that Wednesday’s strike by ambulance workers will go ahead after talks between the government and trade unions failed to tackle key issues, including pay, earlier today …

As with previous strikes, trust leaders will be working hard to put measures in place to minimise interruptions to patient services. But they are anticipating another day of widespread disruption, including the possibility of thousands more appointments being rescheduled or cancelled and a knock on effect on services in subsequent days.

Here is a clip of Steve Barclay outlining his three step plan to address the challenges facing the NHS:

EU says deal on access to database tracking goods going to Northern Ireland provides 'new basis' for protocol talks

The UK and the EU have reached an agreement on access to a new British database providing real time information on goods going from the Great Britain to Northern Ireland in the first sign of progress in Brexit talks over the controversial Brexit protocol for the region.

James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, and Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice president, described a meeting in London today as “cordial and constructive” in a joint statement.

They said the agreement was a “critical prerequisite to building trust and providing assurance” and “provided a new basis for EU-UK discussions”.

The move is significant given the collapse in relations between both sides while Boris Johnson was in power.

Talks aimed at finding a solution over the Northern Ireland protocol re-opened in September following the appointment of Liz Truss as prime minister and continued when Rishi Sunak succeeded her in Downing Street.

Today’s meeting was the second between Cleverly and Šefčovič in the past month with both sides aiming to resolve the dispute by 10 April, the anniversary of the Belfast Good Friday agreement. The statement said:

They agreed that while a range of critical issues need to be resolved to find a way forward, an agreement was reached today on the way forward regarding the specific question of the EU’s access to UK IT systems.

Tomorrow Šefčovič is due to hold talks in Brussels with Micheál Martin, the Irish foreign minister, in Brussels.

In a post on Twitter, Šefčovič said the deal today would provide “a new basis” for the talks on the protocol.

Glad to meet @JamesCleverly and @chhcalling. We agreed on the way forward on the EU's access to UK IT systems. This means a new basis for 🇪🇺🇬🇧 discussions on the Protocol. Our teams will work rapidly to scope potential for solutions in different areas.


— Maroš Šefčovič🇪🇺 (@MarosSefcovic) January 9, 2023

In his own tweet Cleverly said the agreement was a “positive step”.

Thank you @MarosSefcovic for meeting @chhcalling and me in London.

We share the same focus – finding the best outcome for Northern Ireland.

Today's progress on data sharing marks a positive step in discussions on the NI Protocol.

— James Cleverly🇬🇧 (@JamesCleverly) January 9, 2023

Barclay is responding to Streeting.

He rejects the claim that the talks today were a failure. He says Sara Gorton from Unison, who is chair of the NHS staff council, said that progress was made at the talks today. (See 1.26pm.)

And, without referring to him by name, he criticises one Unite official, Onay Kasab, for attacking the government’s stance in the talks despite not even being present at the meeting. (See 12.46pm.)

In his response to Steve Barclay, Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said the disruption caused by the NHS strikes could have been averted if the government had held serious talks on pay. He said today’s talks were an “abysmal failure”.

Taking a swipe at the prime minister, who refused to say whether or not he used private healthcare in an interview with BBC’s Laura Kuennsberg, Streeting said after 13 years of Tory government, the NHS was in crisis.


Barclay says the NHS is also implementing plans to reduce pressure on the service in the long term.

He says data technology is being used to identify when patients can be released more quickly.

He says virtual wards, which involve IT being used to monitor patients in their own homes, have “incredible potential”. This will be expanded, he says.

He says the government wants to allow more NHS patients to be treated in the private sector, where capacity is available.

From March community pharmacies will take referrals from emergency settings, he says. But he says he wants to go further and allow them to deliver more services, as they do in Scotland.

He says the government has signed a memorandum of understanding with BioNTech to trial the use of vaccines against cancer from later this year.

And he says the government is reviewing how elderly parents can be cared for so they do not need to be treated in hospital.


Barclay is now summarising the plans announced overnight to speed up the discharge of patients from hospital.

He says £200m is being spent buying up bed space in care homes and elsewhere, so that patients ready to leave hospital can be discharged.

He says money is also being spent expanding capacity in hospitals.

And Care Quality Commission inspections are being cut back, to free up more staff time for dealing with patients, he says.

Steve Barclay tells MPs that conditions in A&E for some patients and staff have 'not been acceptable in recent weeks'

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, is making a statement to MPs about the winter pressures facing the NHS. He started by accepting that conditions in A&E in recent weeks have “not been acceptable”. He said:

I regret the experience for some patients and staff in emergency care has not been acceptable in recent weeks.


James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, summoned Iran’s most senior British-based diplomat after Tehran executed two more protesters over the weekend, PA Media reports. PA says Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini were executed by the Iranian authorities over the weekend, prompting widespread international condemnation, including from Pope Francis.

Cleverly said:

Today I have summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires to condemn in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent executions we witnessed over the weekend.

The Iranian regime must end its campaign of brutal repression and start listening to the concerns of its people.


The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is due to announce plans later this week for NHS physiotherapists to go on strike over pay. Speaking after Steve Barclay’s meeting with the health unions this morning, Elaine Sparkes, assistant director at CSP, said:

Although the meeting was more constructive this time, there is nothing tangible on the table.

As such, we’ll be announcing the first of our strike dates later this week as we continue to push for a fairer deal for our members and their colleagues.

Unions in Scotland’s have responded to Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement about emergency measures for hospitals in Scotland (see 2.57pm) by saying that the Scottish government should never have let the NHS get into this state in the first place.

Wilma Brown, chair of Unison Scotland’s health committee, said:

NHS staff are being pushed to the absolute limit. The first minister’s recognition that staff are working hard and delivering truly excellent care has never been in doubt - but it is simply not enough.

Our patients and staff are not safe in these conditions and they deserve so much better. The Scottish government should never put the country in this situation again. We need a meaningful long-term plan to bring the NHS back to full health which means recruiting more staff now, a significant reform to social care and investment in all health and care staff in Scotland.

And Colin Poolman, the Royal College of Nursing’s Scotland director, said:

Our previous warnings have not been listened to. Thousands of nursing posts are vacant, we’re not seeing the numbers we need applying to study nursing and many experienced staff are so worn down they are opting to leave the profession. The Scottish government and employers must do more to value and retain our existing experienced nursing workforce and to attract the workforce of the future – fair pay is a fundamental part of this.


Barclay agreed to discuss lump sum or back pay for NHS workers, say sources

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has agreed to discuss the possibility of a lump sum payment or backdating pay in order to end NHS strikes, according to multiple sources, though strikes will go ahead for nurses and ambulance staff next week.

Though health unions publicly attacked the talks as disappointing, both union and government sources acknowledged a significant change in approach and that the government would be prepared to ease the pain staff were experiencing because of the cost of living.

Our full story on this is here.

Talks with education secretary 'constructive but largely unsatisfactory', says ASCL school leaders' union

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), expressed frustration at the lack of progress in union leaders’ meeting with the education secretary. He said:

The meeting was constructive but largely unsatisfactory in that our concerns over the long-term erosion of teacher pay and conditions, the inadequacy of this year’s pay award, and the ongoing teacher recruitment and retention crisis, remain unresolved.

He said the education secretary had promised to look at union submissions to the pay review body for next year’s school teacher pay award, but no progress had been made on this year’s below-inflation award. He went on:

We cannot go on like this. The government missed its target for recruiting trainee secondary teachers by 40% this year, and nearly a third of teachers leave the profession within five years of qualifying.

It is increasingly difficult for schools to be able to put teachers in front of classes. Pay and conditions must be improved together with sufficient funding for schools to be able to afford these costs.

We are expecting further talks to take place in the near future, and we sincerely hope that these issues can be resolved through discussion rather than industrial action. However, these talks must lead to a positive outcome.

ASCL is currently considering a formal ballot for strike action, after 54% of eligible members voted in an indicative ballot, with 69% in favour of moving to a formal ballot on strike action over pay and 74% backing a formal ballot on action short of a strike.


Sturgeon says Scottish hospitals will be able to cancel non-urgent operations in response to 'severe' pressures

Scottish hospitals will be allowed to cancel non-urgent operations and move patients into care homes to help tackle “exceptional and severe” pressures on the NHS, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The first minister said Scotland’s hospitals were “almost completely full” as she unveiled a package of emergency measures to help relieve pressure on emergency rooms and allow hospitals to focus on critical care.

Sturgeon admitted, however, she was pessimistic about the chances of averting a strike by Scottish nurses and midwives later this month, in an ongoing dispute over a pay settlement imposed on NHS staff in December.

The Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives are expected to announce the first strikes in their history shortly, but Sturgeon said her government had no more money to offer them. She said:

We have no more money this year. I think this will be a very, very hard thing to achieve but I am very, very clear about the priority I attach to avoiding industrial action.

She said Scottish NHS staff had been given 7.5% on average, compared to 4.5% in England and Wales, but indicated a fresh offer to improve terms and conditions could be made, with talks on next year’s pay due to start soon.

At a media briefing in Edinburgh, the first minister said:

We anticipated and planned for this winter to be difficult but even so, the current pressures are exceptional and severe.

The recent surge in Covid cases, a mushrooming in influenza hospitalisations and an increase in Strep A infections had made the picture far worse; in some cases hospital staff were falling ill, exacerbating these problems.

Among a package of measures, Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf, the Scottish health secretary, said:

  • NHS boards will be allowed to cancel non-essential operations to prioritise life-saving care and redeploy staff to areas under the greatest pressure.

  • Doctors surgeries will in some areas open on Saturdays to divert people from hospitals.

  • Staffing at the helpline NHS24 will be increased.

Nicola Sturgeon, Humza Yousaf (left) and deputy chief medical officer Gregor Smith during a press conference at St Andrews House in Edinburgh this morning.
Nicola Sturgeon, Humza Yousaf (left) and Scotland’s deputy chief medical officer, Gregor Smith, during a press conference at St Andrews House in Edinburgh this morning. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/PA


RMT leader Mick Lynch leaves meeting at DfT refusing to give update and saying further talks planned this week

Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, told reporters that he was “neither more nor less” hopeful about the prospects of a resolution to the rail dispute following his talks today with Huw Merriman, the rail minister. He said that there would be further talks later this week.

Despite being pressed by several journalists, the normally loquacious Lynch refused to say any more.

That suggests there has been some movement in the negotiations. There has been speculation about a resolution to the rail dispute coming soon, and so the rail talks may turn out to be the most successful of the three sets of union-ministerial talks taking place today.

Mick Lynch leaving talks at the Department for Transport.
Mick Lynch leaving talks at the Department for Transport. Photograph: Sky News

At 3.30pm there will be an urgent question in the Commons on the announcement last week that the government has abandoned plans to privatise Channel 4.

After that there will be two statements. At around 4.15pm Steve Barclay, the health secretary, will make an announcement about NHS winter pressures. And about an hour or so later James Cartlidge, a Treasury minister, will give details of the new energy support package for businesses.

When the government said last week it was inviting unions to talks with ministers about pay, it said the discussion would focus on next year’s pay settlement, for the 2023-24 financial year. But, according to one union source, at today’s meeting Steve Barclay did not rule out backdating any pay rise for 2023-24 to cover the current financial year too. The source said Barclay seemed to have “softened” his stance somewhat, and that union officials came away with the impression that it might be the Treasury, or No 10, holding up progress towards a deal on pay.


NEU teaching union says it made 'no concrete progress' in talks on pay and strikes with Gillian Keegan

Leaders of the National Education Union said there had been “no concrete progress” after their meeting with Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, about pay and the proposed teachers’ strike.

They said the Department for Education was “downplaying” any prospect of movement on this year’s pay deal, but there was “a promise of further discussions” for which they would clear their diaries.

In a joint statement, Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU, said:

It is welcome that a meeting was held – and we believe that union ballots were crucial in the meeting taking place.

There is a promise of further discussions both on the government’s evidence to the STRB [the pay review body] for next year and on changes to pay during this year.

There is no concrete progress but the existence of these discussions is due to the possibility of industrial action. We have offered to clear our diaries for such talks, but we have no dates yet.

However, the Department for Education was definitely downplaying the prospects of movement this year – and wasn’t at all specific about next year.

If the government wants to avoid industrial action then there is only a small window of opportunity before the NEU declares its ballot result [on Monday next week] and its plans for action.


Ambulance strike to go ahead as GMB says talks failed to achieve 'anything substantial'

The GMB is the third major union representing ambulance staff, and it has also issued a downbeat assessment of the talks with Steve Barclay, the health secretary. Rachel Harrison, the GMB national secretary, said:

Today’s talks fell well short of anything substantial that could stop this week’s strikes.

There was some engagement on pay – but not a concrete offer that could help resolve this dispute and make significant progress on the recruitment and retention crisis.

The public expects the government to treat these talks seriously – it’s time they got on with it.

The GMB also said more than 10,000 ambulance staff would go ahead with its strike on Wednesday. Unison ambulance workers are also on strike that day.

According to ITV’s Paul Brand, a GMB spokesperson has been even more critical, describing the time set aside for the meeting as “an insult” (a description also used by Unite, although in a slightly different context – see 12.46pm).

GMB Spokesperson on pay talks:

“Just 45 minutes to talk with the workforce. That tells you all you need to know about the Government’s attitude to resolving this dispute and finding solutions for our NHS. It’s an insult to staff and the public.”

— Paul Brand (@PaulBrandITV) January 9, 2023


Royal College of Nursing says meeting with health secretary about strikes 'bitterly disappointing'

The Royal College of Nursing has described its meeting with Steve Barclay, the health secretary, as “bitterly disappointing”. In a statement Joanne Galbraith-Marten, the RCN’s director of employment relations and legal services, said:

There is no resolution to our dispute yet in sight. Today’s meeting was bitterly disappointing – nothing for the current year and repeating that ‘the budget is already set’ for next year.

This intransigence is letting patients down. Ministers have a distance to travel to avert next week’s nurse strike.

Barclay accepts strikes will not be resolved unless health workers offered high pay this year, Unison says

Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton, said that the meeting with Steve Barclay, the health secretary, did not produce any “tangible” concessions and that her union would not be calling off its strike by ambulance staff later this week.

But Gorton was also more positive about the meeting than her Unite opposite number, Onay Kasab. (See 12.46pm.) She said it was a “very civil meeting” and that they were talking about pay, which was “definitely progress”.

She also said that Barclay accepted that health workers would have to be offered more pay as part of the settlement for this year, 2022-23. Until recently ministers were arguing that this year’s pay deal was closed, and that any compromise would have to focus on what was on offer for next year.

Asked if they were talking about pay for the current financial year, she said:

The secretary of state is very, very clear that resolving this dispute means not just talking about pay for the next period but actually pay for the current year. So very clear that resolving the dispute will take boosting pay ahead of 1 April.

Gorton also said that Barclay asked the unions him to help him make the case to the Treasury for health getting more investment. “We’ll certainly do that,” she said.

Asked whether she felt Barclay was on the side of the unions, she replied:

You might interpret that. I mean, it was very clear that what is needed in order to resolve the dispute is investment.

The Treasury is in the position to unblock that, so I guess the message today is to put pressure back on the chancellor and the prime minister to say the dispute is resolvable.

Sara Gorton speaking to the media after her talks with Steve Barclay this morning.
Sara Gorton speaking to the media after her talks with Steve Barclay this morning. Photograph: Daniel Leal/AFP/Getty Images

Train drivers' union leader plays down prospect of progress after talks at transport department

The strike talks at the Department for Transport do not seem to have gone well either. As PA Media reports, Mick Whelan, the general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef, held his arms out in a wide shrugging gesture as he left the DfT building in central London, indicating that talks with ministers had not gone well.

When asked by PA whether any progress had been made in the ongoing pay dispute, Whelan said: “I’ve got nothing to say.”

Pressed again about how negotiations had gone by Sky reporters, he added: “I’m not going to make any comment today.”

Whelan was meeting Huw Merriman, the rail minister. At health and education, the unions were meeting the secretary of state (Steve Barclay and Gillian Keegan respectively).

Mick Whelan (left) photographed as he arrived at the DfT for talks this morning.
Mick Whelan (left) photographed as he arrived at the DfT for talks this morning. Photograph: James Manning/PA


This is from my colleague Pippa Crerar on the Unite take on its meeting with Steve Barclay, the health secretary. (See 12.46pm.)

Unison, GMB & RCN - who were all at meeting and represent majority of NHS workers - yet to comment.

But if Unite is right on link to more productivity, it’s remarkably tone deaf of ministers. They may be referring to NHS system, rather than staff, but will go down badly even so.

— Pippa Crerar (@PippaCrerar) January 9, 2023

Unite accuses Barclay of 'insult' after suggestion one-off extra payment would have to be linked to productivity increase

Unite, one of the unions involved in talks with Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has described what was put on the table this morning as an “insult” to members.

Unite is one of several unions that represent ambulance workers, and Onay Kasab, its national lead officer, told reporters that the talks had gone “not well” after he emerged from his meeting with Barclay. He went on:

Unfortunately, the government have missed yet another opportunity to put this right. We came here in good faith. What they want to talk about is productivity.

Our members are working 18-hour shifts. How you become more productive with that I do not know.

Today, unfortunately, despite us showing up in good faith, the government have missed yet another opportunity to put this right and what will happen is that a strike action taking place by Unite members, our ambulance workers … [will be taking place on 23 January].

Asked if Barclay had mentioned the possibility of a one-off payment for health staff for the current financial year, Kasab said the union was told that, to justify a payment like this, workers would have to come up with productivity savings. He went on:

That is absolutely ludicrous. This isn’t a factory we’re talking about.

We are talking about people who are working well beyond their contracted hours anyway just to get the job done, because they can’t hand patients over because they care so much.

So for the government to be talking about productivity in return for a [payment] is an insult to every single one of our members.

You all know what’s going on in hospitals at the moment. You all know how hard everybody is working. So today is an insult to our members.

UPDATE: This is from my colleague Pippa Crerar.

Fwiw, I'm told that Onay Kasab was not actually in the meeting with Steve Barclay. Unite had a rep there, but it wasn't him.

— Pippa Crerar (@PippaCrerar) January 9, 2023


Teaching union leader says strike talks with Gillian Keegan will fail without 'new money on table'

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), told journalists that the government had to put “new money on the table” as she arrived at the Department for Education for talks with Gillian Keegan, the education secretary.

Without the offer of new money, the talks would be pointless, Bousted suggested. She said:

She is going to tell us about the government’s evidence about the pay review body – which isn’t actually independent – and then she’s going to listen to our concerns, so this is in no sense a negotiation meeting.

If this meeting is going to have any outcome, then Gillian Keegan has to tell us if there is new money on the table for an increase in the pay offer this year.

Bousted added that the scheduled hour-long meeting is “not sufficient for the problem that we face” and she has “never seen teachers so angry” about “12 years of neglect of state education”.

When asked whether she was hopeful that a resolution can be reached in time to avoid strike action, Bousted said: “Where there’s life there’s hope – let’s hope that the government recognise that after ignoring us for three months – and in fact longer than that – that they really need to speak to us and I hope we can resolve this.”

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), arriving at the Department for Education for talks with Gillian Keegan this morning.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), arriving at the Department for Education for talks with Gillian Keegan this morning. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The NEU is balloting its members on strike action, with the ballot closing on Friday and the results due to be announced a week today. If the strike goes ahead, state schools in England and Wales could close for several days in February and March.

Kevin Courtney, the other joint general secretary of the NEU, said the union was confident that support for the strike vote would be the strongest it had seen.


Company with no website or staff has donated £345,000 to Labour MPs, investigation reveals

Rishi Sunak has described transparency about the donations given to MPs as “really important” for democracy. He was speaking in response to a question prompted by a Sky News investigation showing that a mysterious company, with no staff or website, has donated more than £300,000 to three Labour MPs since the general election.

In their Sky report, Sam Coates and Ed Clowes report:

MPM Connect Ltd is the third-biggest donor to MPs since the last general election. The only organisations that have given more to individual politicians in that period are the trade union giants Unite and GMB.

The company has no staff or website and is registered at an office where the secretary says she has never heard of them.

The £345,217 of donations that MPM Connect has made since the end of 2019 went to three Labour politicians.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has received £184,317, former mayor of South Yorkshire Dan Jarvis £100,000 and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting £60,900.

In his pooled TV interview Sunak said “transparency is really important for the healthy functioning of democracy”. Asked if MPs should be receiving six-figure sums, he replied:

And that’s why we have a set of rules and regulations in place to provide that transparency for people. And it’s important that those rules are adhered to.

The Sky report does not suggest that any of the MPs it features have broken rules. But it does imply that the disclosure regulations are not sufficient to ensure that people have a good understanding of who is funding MPs.

Sky has broadcast its revelations to publicise a new database, Westminster Accounts, that it has set up with Tortoise Media to provide information about who funds MPs. It is based on information which is already in the public domain but which can be hard to find. Westminster Accounts is intended to make it much more accessible. There is an explanation of the project here, and you can search the database here.


Sturgeon says Scottish government to pay for extra beds in care homes to free up space in hospitals

Last night Steve Barclay, the health secretary, announced that the UK government wiould spend £200m paying for extra beds in care homes and other settings so that hospitals can discharge patients more quickly. This should have an impact on the A&E crisis because the shortage of hospital beds is probably the main reason why so many patients are having to wait hours in ambulances before they can be properly admitted to hospital.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is giving a press conference in Edinburgh, and she has just announced a broadly similar policy. These are from the BBC’s James Cook.

At a news conference in Edinburgh First Minister @NicolaSturgeon says this is undoubtedly the most difficult winter the NHS has ever faced, adding that the service was under pressure even before Covid.

— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) January 9, 2023

Ms Sturgeon says the NHS is dealing with an extraordinary level of winter flu, with 1,000 flu patients being admitted per week.

— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) January 9, 2023

There will be additional funding to book more care home beds to free up capacity in hospitals says the FM.

— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) January 9, 2023

NHS is available for those who need it but many patients could consider using NHS 24 website, app and call centre says Ms Sturgeon. She asks people with symptoms of cold, flu or Covid to stay at home, and to wear a mask if they must go out.

— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) January 9, 2023

Does FM agree with BMA that A&E is unsafe? Won’t criticise any health care staff at expressing concerns she says, and accepts there are pressures, but insists the NHS is there safely for those who need it and that patients get an excellent standard of care.

— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) January 9, 2023

I don’t believe the NHS is unsustainable in its current form but it does need to adapt, change and reform says @NicolaSturgeon.

— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) January 9, 2023


Rishi Sunak listening to Donna Pereira as he meets with a multi-disciplinary team who provide virtual care during a visit to the Rutland Lodge Healthcare Centre in Leeds this morning.
Rishi Sunak listening to Donna Pereira as he meets with a multi-disciplinary team who provide virtual care during a visit to the Rutland Lodge Healthcare Centre in Leeds this morning. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

Sunak sums up his asylum promise as being to 'stop the boats'

Rishi Sunak also insisted in his pooled TV interview that the government was focused on “the people’s priorities”. Referring to the promises he announced last week, he

What the government is getting on with is delivering on the people’s priorities. I set out five priorities, five promises I wanted to make to the country – that’s to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, reduce waiting lists, and stop the boats. That’s squarely what everyone in government is focused on.

Sunak also used this shorthand account of his promises on Twitter last week, and in his ConservativeHome article, and that means that is now the settled summary of what he is pledging. It is significant because a promise to legislate with the intention of stopping small boat Channel crossings has become a commitment to “stop the boats”.

While experts believe Sunak can achieve the first four quite easily, very few commentators believe he will “stop the boats”.

(Perhaps he is assuming that the public will view the tests as a GSCE exam, and that four out of five will qualify as a good pass.)

Sunak refuses to say whether he thinks today's talks could led to next week's nurses' strike being averted

In his pooled broadcast interview Rishi Sunak was asked if he accepted that the talks happening today would not be able to avert the nurses’ strike scheduled for next week. He sidestepped the question, and just said that it was good that the talks were happening.

Earlier Patricia Marquis, director for England at the Royal College of Nursing, said that even though the talks were taking place, it was “unlikely” that they would result in the strike would be called off. (See 10.19am.)

This is what Rishi Sunak said in his pooled broadcast interview this morning when asked about reports the government was considering a one-off payment to nurses. Asked if one-off payments could be offered to workers in other sectors too, he replied:

We’ve always said the government is happy to talk about pay demands, pay issues, that are anchored in what’s reasonable, what’s responsible, what’s affordable for the country, but the most important thing is those talks are happening. Let’s try and sit down and find a way through.

Asked again to confirm that a one-off payment was on the table, he replied:

You wouldn’t you would expect me to comment on specifics, but the most important thing is that the conversations are happening … with regard to pay.

Asked to clarify whether ministers would talk about the current, 2022-23 pay offer in the talks with unions today (which is what the unions want), or whether the talks would just cover the settlement for the next financial year (originally the government’s intention – it has said it will not reopen the current pay offer), Sunak dodged the question. He just said that people could be reassured that dialogue was happening, and he repeated his point about the need for a pay settlement to be affordable. He added:

The talks are happening, that’s a good, positive sign, and the most important thing is we let those talks carry on.


Sunak does not deny reports No 10 considering one-off payment to end nurses strike

BBC News is broadcasting an interview with Rishi Sunak.

Asked if the government is proposing a one-off payment to nurses, Sunak does not deny that. “You would not expect me to comment on specifics,” he says.

He says the government wants to be reasonable. It is important to keep talking.

Q: What did you mean yesterday when you said the pay talks would cover pay for this year? (It was not clear if Sunak was talking about pay settlement for the 2023-24 financial year, or the 2022-23 financial year.)

Sunak sidesteps the question.

It was my colleague Pippa Crerar who reported overnight that the government was considering a one-off payment for nurses as a means of ending the strike.

I will post more from the Sunak interview shortly.

Rishi Sunak being interviewed this morning.
Rishi Sunak being interviewed this morning. Photograph: BBC News


Linking future pay rises to NHS efficiency reforms shows 'misunderstanding' of state of NHS, says RCN

In her Sky News interview Patricia Marquis, director for England at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said she was alarmed by suggestions from government that future pay increases for nurses could be linked to efficiency reforms. She said that made her “very, very worried”. She explained:

It shows a level of misunderstanding of the situation the NHS and nursing is in at the moment.

There aren’t enough staff to deliver the care that needs to be delivered and there isn’t enough funding in the NHS.

Of course, there’s always some sort of efficiencies that can be made but it really does sound like what they’re trying to do is get … the NHS to fund its own pay award and we don’t think that’s possible. We really think this needs to be extra money that is clearly earmarked for for nursing pay.


RCN official says it is 'unlikely' today's talks will lead to strike later this month being called off

Patricia Marquis, director for England at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), told Sky News this morning that she thought it was “unlikely” that the talks with the government taking place today would lead to the planned nurses’s strike for later this month being called off.

Asked about the chances of the strike being called off, she told Sky News:

At the moment, it feels unlikely but we’ll see what today brings in those conversations with Steve Barclay.

If there are chinks of hope, if there are further meetings, then I and my colleagues will all maintain optimism that we can get a resolution without nurses having to be on the picket lines again later this month.

Asked if she would be the chances of a resolution at 50/50, she replied:

I don’t think it is 50/50, but there is some hope and we maintain that hope.


Rishi Sunak has used an article for ConservativeHome to argue that, in making the fight against inflation a priority, he is acting as a Thatcherite. Last week ConservativeHome ran an article by Lord Cruddas and David Campbell Bannerman, the two leaders of the Conservative Democratic Organisation, a new pro-Boris Johnson organisation campaigning for party members to get more control of party affairs, complaining that there are too many MPs in the party “who are not genuine Conservatives”.

In his article, Sunak seems anxious to insist that that’s not him. Referring to his stance on inflation and debt, he says:

As Conservatives we know that the most fundamental of all foundations for a better future, for growth and for opportunity is sound money and a stable economy. The public has always trusted us with that task, but that trust is earnt not given. As it was for Margaret Thatcher when she became prime minister, my prime economic objective is to defeat inflation and so my first promise is to halve inflation this year. We must all remember her dictum: ‘No policy which puts at risk the defeat of inflation – however great its short-term attraction – can be right.

We also need to reduce our country’s debt. As a Conservative and as a father, I care about what we leave behind for our children. At the moment debt is too high and there is nothing Conservative about writing cheques for our children and children’s children to pick up after we are gone.

In the article, Sunak also defends the five promises he unveiled last week, insists that the government wants to resolve the public sector strikes “in a responsible and reasonable way”, but defends his plan for anti-strike legislation.


One-off payment ‘unlikely to avert teacher strikes in England and Wales’, says union leader

A potential government offer of a one-off payment to teachers is unlikely to be enough to prevent upcoming strikes in England and Wales, Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said this morning. My colleague Peter Walker has the story here.

Junior doctors very likely to vote for strike, says BMA, as ministers hold meetings with health, education and rail unions

Good morning. There are various meetings taking place today between ministers and union leaders representing workers in health, education and the rail industry after Rishi Sunak called last week for both sides to get around the table. This is quite a shift from the pre-Christmas position when ministers insisted it was up to management negotiators to take the lead in talks with unions. At the end of last week it was not clear whether this was mainly a presentational ploy (Sunak wants the government to be seen as “reasonable’”), or whether significant concessions might be in the pipeline, but yesterday, as my colleague Pippa Crerar reports, Sunak hinted it was the latter in his start-of-year interview with Laura Kuenssberg.

But it is quite possible that the strike crisis could get worse before it gets better. The British Medical Association is from today balloting 45,000 junior doctors in England on strike action and, if they vote in favour, a 72-hour strike is planned from March. This morning Dr Emma Runswick, the BMA’s deputy chair, told Sky News that the chances of a strike were “very high”. She explained:

[Health secretary] Steve Barclay’s planning to meet with us on Wednesday but only to discuss a very narrow set of things. He’s talking about the evidence that the government will submit to the pay review body. Unfortunately, they’ve already submitted their remit letter to the pay review body telling us and them that we only should receive 2% next year.

So, that’s another massive pay cut after we’ve had a pay cut this year, and for the previous 15 years. Again, another pay cut on top of the quarter pay cut we’ve already received, so I’m not optimistic … about the meetings, though we will go and we will negotiate if that is an available option to us.

Asked to confirm junior doctors were looking for a 26% pay rise, Runswick said:

We’re asking for the reversal of that pay cut [over the last 15 years]. So, mathematically, it might even be more and if we have another pay cut this year, it’ll be more again. So, we’re only asking for what we’ve had cut from us back.

Runswick also said she had a colleague who had gone to work in Australia where “she’s doing fewer hours than I am and she’s earning 1.7 times as much”.

We should be hearing again from Sunak this morning. Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Rishi Sunak is doing a health-related visit in Yorkshire.

11am: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, holds a press conference on the situation in the NHS.

11.30pm: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

Lunchtime: James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, and Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, hold a meeting at Lancaster House with Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice-president who is in charge of Brexit-related negotiations on behalf of the EU.

After 3.30pm: Steve Barclay, the health secretary, is expected to make a statement to MPs about extra funding for social care beds. A Treasury minister is also expected to make a statement about the extension of the energy support package for businesses.

Also today, health, education and transport ministers are holding talks with unions about what might resolve the strikes.

I’ll 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

The GuardianTramp

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