Promises Promises

Warren Town is SoR Director of Industrial Relations

June 5th last week we saw unions, coordinated by the TUC, show solidarity against the coalition intention to slash pay rates and depress staff morale. [When I say ‘slash pay rates’ this will be for public servants but not MP’s who will retain their gravy train!]


In London and Liverpool unions demonstrated and with a mock cheque as a prop illustrated to the public the amount in cash of goodwill hard working NHS staff give to ensure that the patient is cared for, diagnosed and treated.


In Liverpool Andy Burnham [Labour Shadow minister for Health] met with representatives from the unions to give thanks for their efforts and to extol the virtues of a new age under Labour if elected next year.


To the massed gathering he promised to repeal the Health and Social Care act; he promised to work to remove the market ethos from health; he promised to keep the NHS high on the list of key topics during the election and he promised not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Read More…

NHS pay cuts help us to see austerity for what it really is


Warren Town is shortlisted for this year’s UnionHome writer of the year competition.

As the politicians on both sides contemplate the pay for health service staff and witness the backlash from the announcement by that nice Mr Hunt (Sec of State) to divide and rule over pay uplifts, you can but wonder which planet the MPs inhabit.


Labour condemn the government for not giving all NHS staff a rise and in the same breath agree that if elected they need to continue the austerity programme the coalition have introduced.


That other lot, the Tories and the Liberals (remember them!) bleat on about affordability and the need to have sufficient funds to pay for high quality care when a report published by the ‘Point of Care Foundation’ highlighted the need to have an engaged and content workforce to provide that care. I suppose cutting NHS staff pay is an MP’s way to provide an incentive to care and be valued! But wait they have agreed an uplift the following year. This is a kin to mouldy jam on stale bread.


So the government’s response is to ignore a perfectly reasoned Pay Review Body Report and impose their own recommendation that suits, using arguments that do not stack up and imposition that no one wants!


At least we can say that the Pay Review Body are consistent and have integrity.


But cast your minds back to the MP pay rise and recommendation. Was it not Clegg and his mates saying that they felt that an 11% pay rise was too much? Odd how you adopt a principled position when the award you have been offered cannot be refused. We must feel sorry for them to have this recommendation imposed on them.


Odd that MPS are so keen to champion the need for performance, when theirs is wistfully well below par.


Odd that it is a jury of millionaires that determine that those of us providing a service to the nation must suffer when they themselves enjoy a privileged position.


The spurious statement by Hunt that NHS employees enjoy a pay rise as a matter of course because they have increments, beggar’s belief.


Only last year the Unions agreed a framework to ensure that progressions would be measured.


Why has this not happened? – Because employers do not have frameworks in place to monitor or judge staff performance.


The government’s answer to this fiasco is not to ensure that employers do their job but to punish the staff by imposing a pay cut.


Let’s stop looking at this as a ‘austerity’ package and see it for what it is.


This government has failed to balance the books as it said it would. This government has failed to support public service and has done nothing to encourage investment in training and development or in a system of care vital to the well being of England and Wales.


This government is now so arrogant that it believes it can do and say what it likes because the public are so demoralised and the opposition is so weak that any dissent is nothing more than a distraction.


Love them or hate them, without a credible alternative Cameron (not Clegg) may breeze into the next national election with the belief that the future is blue and that they are the only alternative.

11% pay increase for MP’s- sounds reasonable to me!

Warren Town is SoR Director of Industrial Relations

It appears that MP’s truly get a bad press and when they get some good news we cannot help but knock them for six.

Take the 11% increase in pay announced by the independent parliamentary watchdog. Does this seem unreasonable in the light of day?  After all is it right that we should see our leaders reduced to lining up at food banks for their cans of beans and staple diet. Is it unreasonable to expect our leaders to rummage around in their piggy banks to pay for their second home or delve into the back of the sofa in the hope they will scratch together enough money to pay for their tea and biscuits.

These are the people we elect to sort out the country, to bring us back on track and show us that all the pain and loss will be worth it. This is a monumental burden that they have to shoulder and hence is it unreasonable that as we scrimp and save for Xmas they should, at the very least, see some benefit from their toil, their burden of guilt and the difficult decisions and that they have to make day after day.

Is it not right that we should attract the most able millionaires to the cabinet and not be faced with second best?  Is it not the case that we should equate their earnings with High Court Judges, Senior Officials in Local government and Head Teachers, who have themselves struggled to keep their wages apace with rampant inflation and have been known, heaven forbid,  to downgrade their brands of whiskey all because of austerity.


Should we, public servants, not also be beacons and trendsetters and heed requests from the government that we forgo increments and any pay rise to help the country prosper? Should we not also be joyful that they have an impendent body that can legally impose any increase on them despite their pleas and utterances that they share the pain of austerity with the citizens of this nation?

Is it not time we thanked them for endless ‘U Turns’ on policy that cost us dearly in time and money, for their slavish support for their expenses policy, for their actions to undermine and destroy public service in England and should we not forget that they, not us, already earn in excess of three times the average salary of a common citizen and just a little more for so few will not make that much difference to the economic plan.
As Danny Alexander said it would be “wholly inappropriate” at a time of curbs on pay in the public sector for MP’s to receive this level of award. This goes to show that MP’s do appreciate what we are going through and that they are fully aware that they have no choice but to accept.

These are our leaders, our saviours and the very group we elect to act in our best interests.

Just keep that thought in mind in two years time.

When the politicians get it wrong! – Again!

Warren Town is SoR Director of Industrial Relations

This week has seen more than just the St Jude storm; we have also seen a flurry of judicial outcomes that question if we should leave decision making to politicians.

Take the payout for the sacked head of services for Haringey. This is reported to be in the region of 600k but as it is under the terms of a confidential agreement we cannot be absolutely sure of the exact sum. Leaving the amount aside and the morality of this payment, it is worth considering how it can happen that someone who is ultimately responsible for the safety of children, can in fact be recompensed for a dismissal for what was seen by many as failure. The answer is as simple as it is tragic.

 The Children’s Secretary at the time was Ed Balls [Labour] instead of leaving the decision to dismiss to the appropriate authority; he decided to act. He dismissed Ms Shoesmith and that decision was seen as unfair and in the words of the Court of Appeal, Ms Shoesmith had been ‘Unfairly scapegoated’ and the decision taken by Balls was ‘intrinsically unfair and unlawful’.

Ed [Balls not Miliband] now takes the view that the payout to Ms Shoesmith now ‘leaves a bad taste in the mouth’. But what of his decision to dismiss; does this not leave us with that same bad taste because had he left the decision to a competent authority than we, the taxpayer, would not have to foot this bill. It is all very well trying to blame someone else when the root cause is your own incompetence.

Now we move onto another decision that has hit the news this week. The coalition has lost a Supreme Court of Appeal about the flagship policy- ‘Back to Work’ schemes. These scheme required claimant’s to work for nothing or take a benefit cut. 5 Supreme Court Justices ruled that the government had failed to provide “sufficient detailed prescribed description” of the schemes and what would happen if people refused to take part. A further claim that the schemes amounted to ‘Slave Labour’ was not upheld but nevertheless the government now has to spend valuable time revisiting the terms of the schemes to get them fit for purpose.  In response the government Minister responsible for this debacle [Iain Duncan Smith] said “we have always said that it was ridiculous to say that our schemes amounted to forced labour, and yet again we have won this argument’.

Umm, no you haven’t, you have had the status of the commitment clarified but you lost the appeal and you now have to revise the scheme to meet the requirements of the ruling. Talk about cheery picking your argument!!

And now we come to the real humdinger!  Having lost at the first hurdle to enforce his decision to cut back emergency and maternity services at Lewisham, Jeremy Hunt goes all out to argue his case at the Court of Appeal. And they say- he does not have the power to do so. The High Court had already said that Hunt’s decision was unlawful and lacked power, not to mention that it breached the National Health Act 2006. It would appear that the Court of Appeal agrees with the lower court and the Minister is left with egg on his face and a bad taste in his mouth.

Then again you need to look carefully at the response from the coalition. Not content with squandering public money on a fool’s errand he now wants’ to ‘…look at the law to make sure that at a time of great challenge the NHS is able to change and innovate when local doctors believe it is in the interests of patients’. I may have missed something here but how do the’ interests of patients ‘ conflict with the interests of the local populace who opposed this move and are likely to be the patients that he has decided that he and his cronies must protect?  It smells of sour grapes and the use of political power in government to get what he wants despite the wishes of the local people. It does seem at odds with the concept of ‘big society’ [remember this idea from the coalition- as Hunt has clearly forgotten] that his leader, Dave Cameron, wanted to champion. A sort of power to the people thingy.

It has not been a good week for the politicians, but it has been an expensive week for the rest of us.

“You are one of many and not merely a bystander”

We march and we protest on the hoof – but do we change anything?


It is a mainstay of trade union activity and it is an activity we willingly engage in where a government, or some other institution, refuses to listen, engage, negotiate or modify their stance on a direction or policy that we do not agree with.


The question is not so much whether a march has any value, moreover do we really think that a mass protest will change anything or have value?


The march in Manchester on the 29th was without doubt a success. It was about the future for the NHS but this did not stop many more pressure and protest groups coming on board to express their opinions on a very wide range of issues. I was struck by how many ‘fringe’ elements joined us and at one point did wonder if their presence would water down the key message. But to think this is to miss the point. The small but vociferous pressure groups have just as much right to protest as the rest of us. The fact that we have the numbers and the organisation helps them to make their mark on the political spectrum and the fact they are present illustrates that discontent with the government is far deeper than just a bunch of ‘Tradies’ venting their spleen about the NHS.


But leaving the composition of the march aside, why do we march and why do we think that it is necessary to do so? Are we merely participating in a group hug or are we serious that by taking to the streets we will begin to see change but realistically, we accept that we are preaching to the converted. At one point in the March I noticed a person on the sidewalk holding a placard that listed all the things that were wrong with this government. The placard was aimed at the marches. But why show this to us?  We know what is wrong, we know why we are traipsing through Manchester- turn around and show the sign to the people passing by and bemused by our presence.  It is they who need to be educated and asked to think.


There is a certain element of togetherness about marching and this is more than just a group hug. It is an expression that we are passionate about our beliefs and we are willing to give up our time to publically express our opinions. Marching often comes at a time when frustration is high and campaign fatigue has begun to set in so that our participation with other like minded people reinvigorates our resolve and gives us a necessary boost to not give in or become complacent.


The mass display of banners and other paraphernalia of protest and the diversity of engagement are uplifting and few would argue that it is not. But the central question is ‘does a March change anything?’


The answer to this is ‘maybe’ but not ‘yes’. A mass protest is never the game changer that many of us hope that it will be. It is one of many means in our arsenal that we use to promote our cause and our beliefs.  Even the press cannot ignore us despite the sad fact that they prefer a March that is controversial to one that is peaceful and the politicians will praise us, condemn us or try to ignore us depending on where they stand in the political arena.


If you are marching for a cause or a belief, you are there because you have opinions and can say that you were willing to be a part of a process for change,  you are one of many and not merely a bystander.

Has Labour got what it takes?

As the party faithful assemble in Brighton for a stick of rock, a pint and a group hug, the press have taken a more than passing interest in the uttering’s of Ed and Ed.


 Sandwiched between the Lib Dems and the Tories next week, Labour can upstage the Liberals, [not that hard at the best of times] and undermine the Tories; or so one would hope.


But the problem is that so far they have failed to do either. A succession of policies that look less thought out by the minute and statements that interviewers have delighted in shooting down does nothing to encourage the casual observer to view Labour as the party in waiting; moreover it could be seen that it is the party that is wanting.


Whereas we would have hoped for ground breaking policies that have that ‘wow factor’ we have had statements that are more designed to improve the Tory angle than change the mood music. Even statements like ‘we will repeal the Health and social care bill’ to save the NHS send shivers down the spine. Not because this half baked bill needs to be lost in the mist of time along with the Poll tax, but because you have to wonder what they will have in its place. It was the Blair administration that introduced Foundation status for trusts with Milburn at the helm and it was Hutton as Secretary for State for Health that paved the way for the independent sector. And the less we say about PFI in health and elsewhere the better. Even this leaves aside the concept of ‘patient choice’ that the Tories leapt on to champion further moves for private intervention.


But the concern does not end here. More money for parents, scrapping the one room policy and having all of this open to scrutiny in the hope that the Tories will play ball, leaves you to wonder what it is Labour can or will achieve if they want to be seen as the true alternative when much of what they have said so far is based on hope and a promise.


It is all very well Ed [Miliband] saying that it will all be all right on the night of the election because it is then that we will have the detail,  when the electorate want to know what they are signing up to now and not bread today and jam tomorrow. There is the real danger that come the national election the voter will go for the devil they know then the devil they cannot trust or understand.


But there is another concern that appears to be outside the radar of Labour and its spin doctors.


Since the election there has been a large number of new voters and by the time we hit the starting blocks for the next round of electioneering we will have had a load more.


Many of these voters will, we hope, be keen to know what the parties will do to give them a future.  To give them the comfort that they will work, receive a pension, an income and a quality of life. In short ‘what is in it for them?’  So far there is not a lot to see and many of the party politico’s on all sides are assiduously designing policies that will improve or affect the middle classes whilst throwing a few crumbs to the poor.


Labour has something to offer but the problem is that if it is not brave enough to be bold and instead assumes that by making statements that they hope will appease the masses this will win them plaudits. It will not.

Lewisham Hospital judgement was not just a bloody nose for the coalition health team

Warren Town is SoR Director of Industrial Relations


Perhaps the good news we seek about the NHS will not come from a success with patients and instead highlights that the government needs to take a step back when it tries to railroad through reforms that the local people do not agree with.


The high Court ruling to quash an attempt by Jeremy Hunt to overrule the wishes of the local people and use the Lewisham Hospital financial security to prop up a debt elsewhere is a signal to the Coalition that they cannot simply make it up as they go along. The High Court ruling was not just a bloody nose for the coalition health team, it was also a decision that told Jerry that he cannot play fast and loose with the provisions of the National Health Services Act.


This is probably the key element of the judgement.  Just because Government makes the law does not mean they can break it with impunity. It is somewhat telling that whereas the government has said all along that the changes were needed to make the service better, when they find they have lost they now admit that they did say that the cuts were necessary because South London Health Care trust, excluding Lewisham, was losing £1million every week . In truth it does not matter why the changes were needed but we expect the politicians will be honest about what they believe. Unfortunately despite the fact that we expect truth and openness from politicians this ideal has become a precious and transient commodity. 


Whilst the High Court has given the Department of Health leave to appeal and although they are ‘disappointed by the decision’ the Dept they have only said that they will consider the judgement carefully and continue with their intention to dissolve the South London Healthcare NHS trust. If they have any sense they will swallow their pride and accede to the judgement and the wishes of the people.


Elsewhere in the UK another drama unfolded with the long awaited decision over the future for the Mid Staffordshire NHS trust. This long running saga has been played out in the media for some years and more recently with the release of the reports by Francis and Keogh there will clearly be a major change in how health care is designed, accessed and delivered. With the trust in such dire straits and due to be split up into component parts, you can but wonder if there is also an idea in the back of someone’s mind that the way forward will be to privatise/sell off  the most profitable parts and leave the rest to the NHS.


It is indeed unfortunate that like so many things in life we only learn from our mistakes, and have such a deep insight after the event.  And it is here that we need to be very clear, not just about what we can do, but what we hope to achieve. It was Labour that set up the concept of a health care trust, free to spend, design and deliver its services as it saw fit to meet the needs of the NHS and we hope, the patient. But it is this freedom that could very well be the stumbling block for the future. At a recent meeting on the proposals in the Francis report, the question was asked of DH, ‘how will you implement any changes’ if a Foundation Trust has autonomy. The answer from DH was as some of us predicted- ‘we recognise this and intend to look into it.’ If you have any dealings with DH officials you will know that this is a euphemism for ‘don’t know – let me get back to you on that’. 


It is clear that the NHS, what is left of it, is very likely to be the hot topic for the 2015 national election.  It may even liven up the MEP elections in 2014. Maybe it is time for us all to start thinking about the questions we want to ask our prospective  MEP or parliamentary candidate and hold them to account when they answer.

Information about Unions21′s fringe event on health at the Labour Party Conference is available by clicking  here.

Just once can we celebrate the NHS and not put it down?

As we wind down the political theatre that is Westminster and as the MP’s go on their well earned hols (no doubt dreaming of what they will do with their extra cash) we are left to ponder what the autumn will bring.


The spring/ early summer had its fair share of madness and drama (no doubt a result of the high temps) with Labour and the Tories slogging it out in the house over the NHS; Labour slogging it out with the unions and the liberals wondering why they are being left out.


Then we have u turns over ciggies, booze; grandstanding over immigration, the conflict in Syria, the NHS to name but a few.


Some readers may see a common theme developing as I list the key issues. Yep, the NHS has consistently been in the news and on the political agenda for some time; but unfortunately not in a good way.


We have had the Francis report, the Keogh report, the crisis looming in A and E, the future of the 111 service, the problems of health care in Wales and questions by select committees over who is actually responsible for what in the NHS. This is despite the statement from Jeremy Hunt that ‘the buck stops with me.’  [Now this is odd, as I do have a recollection that the new health arrangements were designed to distance the politicians from decision making!]


If you are a visitor from abroad and turned on your telly in your hotel room and heard the news  you could be forgiven for praying that you did not get sick during your vacation.


But we all know that there is a gulf between what we hear and see and reality. NHS staff still work tirelessly despite cuts to budgets, increasing workloads and threats to job security. Patients still value the NHS and so do we.  And despite the political and journalistic rhetoric we still treat patients and diagnose their illness. Despite what we see in the news and read in the paper and on twitter feeds, we still treat them with respect and we still keep them safe.


It would be nice to see, just once, a story that is used by the media, politicians and others to show the real worth of the NHS and why we should not see this service as a political football but something that is worth keeping and supporting and that  any failures are an exception and not the norm.


Just once can we celebrate the NHS and not put it down or dissect its innards to gain column inches or political capital.


Whether we work in the NHS or we work for the NHS we know that it is a service that we cannot afford to lose because once it is gone we will never see it return.

A Coalition Health Check

With the machinations within the Labour party and the relationship with unions taking centre stage, you can be forgiven for failing to see a small article that briefly graced the BBC website about redundancies in the NHS.


The headline read that ‘NHS redundancies have cost £435millon since April’. The cost in terms of bodies is 10,000 but this disguises the amounts that are paid in real terms.


According to the National Audit Office [NAO] 44 very senior managers have been laid off at a cost of £578,470 with the average payout at £277,273; the lowest was £33,771.


We do have to balance this against the implementation of the reforms in the NHS [England] that were designed to reduce the administrative infrastructure and the numbers of managers to make health more patient need focused. Well they seem to have managed the former but what of the latter?


So what we see is that so far the cost of re-managing the NHS is £1.1 billion, but set not to exceed £1.7 billion.  [We shall see if they can manage to achieve this or will simply fudge the figures in the hope we do not notice!]


But the transition has seen 170 organisations close and 240 created. Unless I am mistaken that means that so far 70 new bodies have been established which we assume need admin, premises, IT, staff and all the other paraphernalia to operate. With the mantra from the coalition that we need to be leaner and fitter you cannot help but wonder how creating more than you started with makes sense.


Ahh, but the coalition has a cunning plan! The changes they have and will introduce to health care in England will, in the long term, be good for patients and good for health. The problem with rhetoric is that it should be backed by some science or evidence. Unless you are the coalition in which case neither applies as the NAO has found that ‘some of the clinical commissioning groups, led by GP’s, lacked credible financial plans’ which ‘raises concerns about their ability to make savings and remain financially sustainable in coming years.’  So, if the whole idea of introducing competition in the NHS is to save money and the groups that are designed to do this could not organise the proverbial in a brewery, exactly where are we going with this new structure?


Maybe the answer lies elsewhere.


Since the passing of the legislation 3 months ago to open up the NHS in England to outsourcing, an estimated £1.5 million worth of contracts have been signed.  So far outsourcing has been fastest in diagnostics [not specified], mental health, domiciliary care and pharmacy.


Even more disturbing is that of the numbers of contracts awarded [16] since April only two were awarded to the NHS, with all others to private companies or enterprises. Since one of the key elements of the changes was some assurance from the Ministers that the NHS would be an equal partner you either assume that the NHS has failed to be competitive or that private industry has cut its cloth to beat the NHS price. What appear to be missing from the information on tendering are the quality, maintenance and long term viability for any of the services that are listed for tender.


Bitter experience in the past has shown that when a company takes over a service, it is often quickly reorganised or merged with another provider or they up sticks and go back overseas or that cuts are made to staff and pay to remain competitive and any promises of protection forgotten.


With only three months into the transition only time will tell if the failures of the past come back to haunt us in the future. Mind you by then we will be into another election cycle, with ministers from all persuasions promising us the sky and the earth and a brighter future.


So as we all consider where we will be sunning ourselves over our summer hols, ponder if you will where we will be in the autumn. Will we be in clover – or up the creek without the paddle?

Kicking somebody, anybody, to gain votes

The more you look at, or delve into politics today the more you begin to despair  that democracy is no longer the principle that underpins our society, but is being used as the means to destroy the welfare state; a system that we rely on to support and protect us when we are at our most vulnerable.


Politics has always been a popularity contest but until recent times voting for a political party has been based on party policies and not in response to populist rhetoric.


The latest scrabble by the mainstream parties to head off UKIP in the popularity stakes has emphasised the total lack of coherent direction in politics in favour of kicking somebody, anybody, to gain votes.

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