The government has trailed plans to lift the pay cap for NHS staff. The Prime Minister’s spokeswoman today refused to deny reports that the 1% limit could be removed as soon as next year. Professions facing the biggest recruitment and retention problems, such as nursing, would see the first rises.
The spokeswoman responded to questions about the cap by outlining the timetable for setting public sector pay. The Treasury will write to the pay review bodies in the autumn. They will consider evidence from the departments and professional organisations before making recommendations in the spring.
She added that the PM had said many times that people in both the public and private sectors were ‘just about managing’ and the government recognised the sacrifice they are making, but reiterated that there was a process to follow.
She ignored direct questions about whether the stories about the pay cap being lifted were true, instead asking what other subjects journalists wanted to raise.
Janet Davies, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing said: ‘If reports are true, this would be significant progress and a sign that the Government is listening to our campaign. But any offer from the PM or Treasury needs to not only scrap the pay cap for future years but go some way towards making up for lost earnings.
‘If the Government does not scrap the cap then industrial action is on the table.’
The RCN argues that nurses’ wages have been cut by 14% since 2010, an average loss of £3,000 per year. In May, over 90% of nurses backed industrial action in an indicative poll at RCN Congress, with 71% saying they were prepared to strike.
But it is estimated that ending the cap could cost up to £4bn. Spreading it over two years, from 2018-2019, is thought to be more palatable to the Treasury.
A planned demonstration by the RCN outside Parliament tomorrow will go ahead, to show ministers the strength of feeling across the profession.
Earlier hints that the pay cap would be lifted were dashed in June. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had told the NHS Confederation: ‘I have a great deal of sympathy for the case that nurses, amongst others, have made on the issue of pay.’ He went further in a BBC interview, saying the government would like to be more generous, but no action followed.
Former Chancellor George Osborne imposed the formal 1% pay cap across the board in 2015, following five years of pay restraint. It was due to last until 2019.