I refer the hon. Gentleman to an answer I gave earlier today.
Has the Minister had an opportunity to study the research done by the New Economics Foundation a few months ago, which reveals that fully regionalised public sector pay could strip up to £9.7 billion a year from local economies, put 110,000 jobs at risk and hit women twice as hard as men? Given that, what possible justification could this Government have for such a crazy policy?
Let me bring the hon. Gentleman back to planet earth for a while—[Interruption.] He should have listened to the answer I gave a little earlier about allowing for flexibility in pay frameworks. Some degree of regional pay was introduced by the previous Government in “Agenda for Change”. On principle, then, the previous Government, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, including the former Secretary of State, were supportive of regional pay. However, on the current negotiations and discussions, we would like to see a collaborative relationship between employers, unions and employees in the NHS at the NHS Staff Council to make sure that we maintain national pay frameworks as long as they remain fit for purpose.
Why should there be an assumption that local pay will lead to lower pay in the public sector? In a constituency such as mine, where the unemployment rate is below 2%, local pay could quite possibly lead to higher pay in the public sector so that people are attracted to it.
17. At a time when NHS budgets are under exceptional pressure, my constituents simply do not understand why the Government are so intent on pushing trusts to divert money away from patient care and into wasteful local pay bargaining. Is there not a risk that Nottingham’s excellent NHS hospitals and community services will be unable to recruit and retain the best staff if regional pay results in cuts to their salary scales? The Government are supportive of the idea, endorsed by the previous Government, that local pay flexibility allows additional rewards to be paid to staff in areas with workplace shortages, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) just made clear. The Government are supporting the unions, employers and employees, as the NHS Staff Council, in coming together to try to agree how we need to modify the “Agenda for Change” and other agreements to ensure that they remain fit for their purpose of protecting employees. (124152)