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NHS pay rises will cost £4bn and will be funded from ‘areas of underspending’, govt says | Politics News

The government needs to find £4bn in spare cash to fund NHS pay rises, with some of it coming from “areas of underspend”.

The one-off payment offered to frontline workers on Thursday will cost £2.7bn, Downing Street has said, while the 5% pay rise will cost £1.3bn.

A 3.5% pay increase had already been factored into the existing budget before a new deal was put to health unions, leaving ministers scrambling to find the rest.

Asked where the money will come from, the PM’s spokesperson said “areas of underspending” had been identified.

They did not go into specifics but added “we will discuss with Treasury and work together to resolve any new funding needs”.

Pressed on the source of the funding again, they said the money is “not coming from patient-facing services”.

Ministers previously said they can’t afford to give striking NHS workers a pay rise because the money would have to be taken out of the existing NHS budget – which was not considered an option at a time of record-high waiting lists.

But there was a major breakthrough on Thursday as the government and unions reached a new deal that could herald the end of industrial action across most of the health service.

The offer consists of a one-off payment of 2% of their salary plus a COVID recovery bonus of 4% for the current financial year 2022/23, and a 5% pay increase for 2023/24.

Workers on the picket line outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham during a strike by nurses and ambulance staff. Picture date: Monday February 6, 2023.
The government has insisted the pay deal to end strikes won’t come out of the budget for patient services

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said it will apply to thousands of key workers including nurses, paramedics and midwives but could not say how the rise would be funded.

When questioned on this he deferred to the Treasury, saying only that it “would not come from areas of the budget that impact on patients”.

The prime minister gave a similar answer when pressed during a visit to a south London hospital on whether patient care would be hit, saying: “Absolutely not. We’re going to be making sure we protect all frontline services with £14bn of more funding we announced at the end of last year.”

Unions have recommended members vote for the pay rise, and have agreed to pause industrial action during that process.

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Junior doctors have welcomed pay talks with the Health Secretary and are ‘hopeful’ the dispute can be resolved to avert further strikes.

Tens of thousands of nurses, paramedics and other healthcare staff went on strike just before Christmas, then again in January and February, leading to the cancellation of around 140,000 appointments and operations.

Labour have criticised the government for delays in getting around the negotiating table, with shadow health secretary Wes Streeting branding his government counterpart “ Steve Barclay”.

Speaking to Sky News, he accused the health secretary of “having cheek” by deferring questions on how the pay rise will be funded to the Treasury, adding: “Newsflash Steve Barclay, the budget was yesterday.

“If he pulled his finger out before Christmas and negotiated a deal, not only would we have avoided the strike action and the 140,000 cancelled operations and appointments, he might have got a better deal for the NHS.”

The breakthrough has sparked hopes of resolving other long-running industrial disputes, with the government and education unions beginning “intensive” talks today on pay and conditions.

Asked whether an offer to teachers could look similar to the NHS deal, the PM’s spokesperson stressed that each pay offer is “unique”, and the two-pronged agreement is “specific to the work NHS staff have done”.

Asked if that recognition will apply to junior doctors, who are embroiled in a separate dispute, the spokesperson said: “We want talks to start as soon as possible but its dependent on them cancelling or pausing strikes. As soon as they pause strike action we can have talks.”

Thames Tideway: Inside the £4bn ‘super sewer’ that will help protect London’s river from pollution | UK News

With a rattling clank the sliding doors shut on the makeshift lift and we start to track down the wall of the biggest vertical shaft I’ve ever seen.

A concrete tank 60 metres deep and 18 across dropping down to a tunnel junction beneath, its epic scale feels like something I’ve only seen on film: Dune or Bond.

The reality is less glamorous. It will fill with what we flush.

Sky News has been given rare access into the ‘super sewer’ or Thames Tideway, as it’s officially called.

It has three of these giant tanks along nearly 20 miles of tunnel, each wide enough to hold three double decker buses side by side.

Total build time will be nine years at a cost of around £4bn: an expensive solution to a massive problem.

In an average year, 39 million cubic metres of water contaminated with sewage is dumped into the River Thames.

London‘s Victorian sewers were built after the Great Stink of 1858, a stench from the river so bad that parliament couldn’t sit.

They were engineering marvels of their time, but over 100 years later a deliberate design decision has become a major flaw.

The foul water from our homes flows into the same pipes that carry rainwater running off roads and roofs. So downpours can overwhelm the system – especially as London has grown.

Sewage spills out of pipes like these whenever there's significant rain in London
Sewage spills out of pipes like these when there’s significant rain in London
The new sewer will send overflows to an east London treatment plant

We have more people flushing toilets and more of those tile and tarmac hard surfaces. To prevent sewage backing up into homes, it is deliberately dumped in the river.

Lucy Webster, external affairs director for Thames Tideway, tells Sky News: “When they were designed, that would have been a very, very rare event.

“But today, with all its development, with population growth, it’s a very regular occurrence. And pretty much whenever it rains to any significant degree in London, it will be overflowing directly into the River Thames. “

Anger over ‘billowing brown plumes’

The super sewer will catch those overflows and send the sewage to a treatment plant in Beckton, east London and in a torrential downpour it’ll fill those huge tunnels. It’s like a new river network under London.

Paying for these costs each London household £18 per year – but polluted rivers and coasts are a national problem and, if it is to be solved, that bill will spread.

Campaign group Surfers Against Sewage recorded 14,000 untreated leaks last year and 700 incidents of human illness from sewage.

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October 2022: Huge sewage spill spotted in Cornwall

Billowing brown plumes in rivers and around our coasts have caused a popular and political outcry.

This week the government announced plans to make it easier to fine water companies for sewage leaks and many campaigners say they should find the money for the clean-up from their profits.

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But Alastair Chisholm, director of policy at the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management, says no one is being realistic about the scale and cost of the job nationwide.

“At the moment it’s looking like a bit of a car crash. We’ve got campaigners taking government to task. We’ve got government and other politicians shouting from the rooftops that they want to really punish the water companies.

“We’ve got the water companies needing to invest amounts of money that potentially are unaffordable for customers. There’s going to have to be a real reckoning with reality. And I think that’s going to come over the next 12 months.”

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The price for removing sewage from our natural waterways is high but nature is paying the price for doing nothing.

Chris Coode, from healthy river pressure group Thames 21, has witnessed the result of big leaks.

“You have a big slick of sewage in the river and as bacteria break down the organic matter they will use up oxygen,” he explains.

“So you’ll end up with huge areas of deoxygenated water. Fish can’t breathe, so you’ll see them sometimes at the edge, gasping. And you can have thousands of dead fish.”