Scotland NHS strikes: John Swinney tells NHS workers he has 'nowhere to go' to fund increased pay offer

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has told NHS workers fighting for pay increases he has “nowhere else to go” to fund an increased offer.

NHS unions are balloting on strike action and ambulance workers and physiotherapists have already voted for walkouts.

But Mr Swinney told them: “I have nowhere else to go to fund pay deals beyond what the Government offers.”

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Finding additional cash for public service pay would have “ever more significant consequences”, he added, and he insisted: “I am not prepared to do that.”

A NHS hospital ward. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
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Mr Swinney’s comments came in light of the Scottish Government’s emergency budget review on Wednesday, in which he announced a further £615 million of savings.

This includes £400m of spending “reprioritisation” within the health and social care sector to support a pay offer for staff, with opposition politicians in Holyrood claiming funding for areas such as mental health is being reduced as a result.

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Mr Swinney told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that “fundamentally I have got to make sure health service workers are able to attend their work because they feel well supported by a pay deal”.

He insisted the pay offer on the table was a “very substantial deal”, saying it represents a 7 per cent rise for health staff on average and “over 11 per cent” for lower earners.

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“It is much more than is being offered south of the border and it is very substantial deal,” Mr Swinney said.

He said the offer was “all the Government could afford to put on the table”.

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Mr Swinney, who is responsible for finance while Kate Forbes is on maternity leave, was adamant he had “nowhere else to go to fund pay deals beyond what the Government offers”.

He said: “The Government is unable to fund any more deals because if people are concerned about the gravity of decisions I took and announced yesterday, the next stage of what I would have to free up any more money would have ever more significant consequences, and I am not prepared to do that.”

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Asked about the prospect of tax rises to fund pay rises for public sector workers, Mr Swinney said that was “of course an option”, but changes could not be made until the next financial year.

Decisions on tax would be made after the UK Government’s autumn statement on November 17.

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Mr Swinney said that statement would “shape the fiscal context in which we are operating and shape the tax context in which we are operating”, and he would “reflect carefully on that”.

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