Government negotiators told union representatives that funding for the pay rise and bonus for more than a million health workers would come from “additional investment” beyond existing NHS budgets, i understands.
The written guarantee from the government, as part of its breakthrough pay offer on Thursday, made clear the deal would be “above the [health] department’s budget” for both the 2022-23 one-off lump sum and the pay rise for 2023-24.
The disclosure came amid concerns that the government has not yet fully explained publicly how it will fund the £4bn cost of the pay deal for nurses, ambulance workers and other NHS staff.
Downing Street said the one-off payments for a million NHS workers for 2022-23 would be an “additional investment of around £2.7 billion” while the pay rise for 2023-24 “is an additional investment of around £1.3 billion”.
In the final stages of the talks with the government, health unions demanded assurances in writing that the pay offer would not come from existing NHS budgets, which are already tight.
The government put in writing that there would be “additional investment in pay for both years above the department’s budget”, i understands.
The letter says: “Funding arrangements have not been finalised, but reassure you that there is additional investment in pay for both years above the department’s budget.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay is expected to hold discussions with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt about the exact funding scheme shortly.
Rachel Harrison, national secretary of the GMB union, said: “Unions were given a written guarantee money for both years of the NHS pay offer would come from outside existing NHS budgets.
“We proceeded in good faith on that basis. It’s up to the Treasury and Department of Health to explain themselves if that’s no longer the case, but GMB is clear the health service is already cut to the bone.”
Teachers, civil servants and other public sector workers outside the NHS who are striking over pay may get a lesser deal than nurses and ambulance staff, Downing Street have suggested.
The pay offer agreed between health unions and ministers this week involves a one-off payment for the current financial year which is split into two – a non-consolidated lump sum of 2 per cent of this year’s salary and a more generous “NHS backlog bonus” of at least £1,250 per worker, or more than 4 per cent of pay.
This is in addition to a 5 per cent pay rise for the next financial year.
Union insiders are concerned that the “salami slicing” of the 2022-23 offer for NHS staff, with a ring-fenced covid backlog bonus, could allow the government to negotiate a much-reduced package for teachers and civil servants during talks to avert strike action, as it could be argued that these workers do not face the same covid pandemic pressures as nurses and ambulance staff.
Asked why the one-off payment for 2022-23 was split into two for NHS staff, a Downing Street spokesman said: “One of them is a 2 per cent non-consolidated award based on an individual’s salary, whilst one is an NHS backlog bonus which is significantly there to recognise the pressure that the NHS faced throughout the pandemic.”
Asked whether that meant other unions involved in strike action would not be offered that package, the spokesman said: “I’m not going to get into details of negotiations, I don’t think it would be right to do so, but we have said that each public sector workforce is unique and we have been clear that this pay offer for Agenda for Change staff is specific to the work they have done, and that bonus as I’ve said is the NHS backlog bonus which uniquely reflects the work they did throughout the pandemic.”
The government and representatives of six health unions including Unison, GMB and the Royal College of nursing reached a breakthrough agreement on Thursday after six days of talks.
The offer is being put to members, including Unite who are not recommending the deal but will honour the outcome of the ballot.