Talks over crucial pay deals and funding in the public sector are in jeopardy as the government paralyzes following the Tory leadership race, senior teachers and doctors have warned.
The autumn and new year could see an unprecedented wave of strikes among teaching staff and doctors over a pay deal that is expected to see their wages fall in real terms in the face of the cost of living crisis. There have also been warnings that the lack of additional funding for increases will plunge public services deeper into crisis.
Figures from the education and health unions said that with a new prime minister due to be in place by autumn, they feared the temporary status of the current government would affect ministers’ ability to make the necessary decisions.
Kevin Courtney, co-general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said when challenged to funding increases for next year during a call last week, the new secretary at the education James Cleverly “would not answer frankly and had the very good excuse that he may not be Secretary of State”.
“That indicates they’re not firing on all cylinders, and that’s not good,” he said. “They don’t take care of the things that matter.” NHS staff will get a raise of at least 4.5%, while teachers will get a raise of at least 5%. However, inflation currently stands at 9.1% and is expected to reach 11% later this year, according to the Bank of England.
Courtney also said he feared ministers would not fight the Treasury for resources due to the uncertainty surrounding their positions. “A secretary of state who would do the right thing would really be fighting the Treasury now, saying that this salary reward is not enough and pointing out the fact that they have very big problems recruiting and retaining teachers which have an impact on the quality of teaching.
“The current ministers won’t do that: they want to be ministers in the new government, so they won’t want to make waves at this stage. I don’t trust them to fight for schools like they should fight for them. It is directly linked to the level of education that the children will have.
It comes after five major education unions wrote a joint letter last week warning of a funding crisis if pay rises are not accompanied by additional funding for schools. It is expected that schools will have to cover the additional costs from their own budgets. Including the increases announced last week, the real value of teachers’ salaries will still have fallen by 12% since 2010.
Cleverly said he has been fully committed to his work since being appointed education secretary this month. A Department for Education spokesperson said: “This year’s pay award is a responsible solution that recognizes teachers’ hard work and supports the cost of living and the stewardship of schools’ budgets. In contrast, double-digit wages for public sector workers would lead to higher and lasting levels of inflation, which would have a much greater impact on people’s real incomes in the long run. Funding for these salary awards will come from the school’s generous funding settlement during last year’s Expenditure Review.
Young doctors are angry that they have been left out of NHS pay deals, having struck a multi-year pay deal a few years ago. Dr Mike Kemp, of the BMA’s Young Doctors Committee, said the current government’s ‘gatekeeper’ status was hurting negotiations and making industrial action more likely. Excluding young doctors from the pay deal “was pushing [them] towards a strike,” he added. “It’s obviously not something a young doctor takes lightly.” Progress has been made, he said, but it has been “turned upside down by the recent unrest in Westminster”.
A government source said junior doctors were not “in scope” of the deal, suggesting they had not been excluded. A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Junior doctors are in a multi-year salary and contract reform deal. Next year will be a good time to consider compensation.
“This agreement has come with an additional investment of £90m. More than one million NHS staff will receive a pay rise of at least £1,400.