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Regional Pay

Volume 546: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2012

I have not received any such representations. The Government’s evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body shows that market-facing pay has the potential to enable NHS organisations better to achieve their need to recruit and retain staff within the “Agenda for Change” framework for pay. The pay review body will take evidence from all parties and make its recommendations in July.

It can often be harder to work on the NHS front line in more deprived parts of our country, so would the Secretary of State like to join me on a busy Friday night in A and E in Stoke-on-Trent, where he can explain to the staff why their work is worth less than that of someone working in a more affluent part of the country?

I had the privilege and pleasure of visiting the University hospital of North Staffordshire about eight weeks ago. I very much enjoyed being there, meeting the staff, who I thought were doing a terrific job, and talking in particular to a substantial number of nurses. We did talk about that issue, and implicitly the hon. Gentleman is criticising the existing “Agenda for Change” framework, because there are high-cost areas in some parts of the country. The proposals and my evidence to the NHS pay review body do not recommend cutting anybody’s pay; they suggest that within the “Agenda for Change” framework we should extend high-cost areas.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that highly paid senior managers working in the new bodies established by the NHS reorganisation will be exempt from his plans for regional pay variation? Does he think that that is fair?

Yes, I do—in the same way as, for example, we are not including doctors and dentists in the same market-facing proposals. The reason why is that they do not work in what are essentially local labour markets; rather, they work in national labour markets.

The most recent available statistics show that 50% of public sector jobs outside London were vacant for more than eight weeks, compared with 13% in the private sector. How will lower regional pay improve that situation?

I simply reiterate to my hon. Friend the point that I have already made. We are not proposing to cut anybody’s pay; we are proposing to give NHS organisations a greater mechanism through the “Agenda for Change” framework so that they can secure the recruitment and retention of staff. That is precisely the issue. Whatever their needs may be in terms of the recruitment and retention of staff, their pay should be better able to adjust to that.

Given the extent of social deprivation and the fact that £450 billion will be taken out of the pockets of people in Northern Ireland, particularly those on low incomes, will the Secretary of State confirm that there are no plans to introduce regional pay into the national health service in Northern Ireland during this parliamentary term or in future, as this would have a detrimental impact on the economy?

If, as the Secretary of State says, it is not his intention to see pay cut, does he hope that as a result of this measure lower-paid health workers in poor regions will be paid more?

At the risk of repetition, let me say that in any part of the country NHS organisations, like organisations in other fields, should have the ability to set pay levels that reflect to a greater extent local labour market conditions and their need to recruit and retain staff. My hon. Friend will recall that a number of south-west trusts are looking at going down the path of setting their own pay arrangements. It was in fact the previous Administration who in 2004, under the “Agenda for Change” pay framework, gave trusts and foundation trusts precisely the freedoms that they are proposing to use, so I cannot understand how Labour Members can possibly object to those freedoms now.

The Secretary of State may wish to call this market-facing pay, but he has rather let the cat out of the bag with his previous answers. In fact, he has proposed lower pay for NHS staff in poor areas—a move that would create a deeply divided, two-tier NHS and undermine the NHS in the communities that need it most. We know that the Secretary of State does not take advice from medical professionals, but will he perhaps take some from one of his own Back-Bench colleagues, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), who said that

“someone working in the NHS in a deprived part of the North East probably deserves more pay, certainly not less, than a nurse in leafy Surrey”?

Will the Secretary of State commit today, yes or no, to withdraw these disastrous proposals?

If I may say so, I think that the hon. Gentleman wrote his question before he had listened to my earlier answer. I am not proposing to reduce anybody’s pay. It is very simple. The NHS Pay Review Body will have the opportunity to make recommendations. I gave evidence to it on the basis that we should retain a national framework for pay through the “Agenda for Change” framework. However, it is transparently the case that the “Agenda for Change” framework has not thus far enabled NHS organisations, as they say themselves, to adopt a pay structure locally which better reflects the market in which they are employing.