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Matt Hancock defends one per cent pay rise for nurses despite threat of strikes

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THE Government has continued to defend its controversial recommendation of a 1% pay rise for NHS workers despite growing anger and the threat of industrial action.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said NHS staff had been “carved out” of a pay freeze affecting other public sector employees.

Hancock was asked at the Government’s Covid briefing how hard he fought for a larger pay rise for NHS staff and whether he’ll continue to fight.

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He said he is a “huge admirer” of those who have done so much during the pandemic but said the Government had to take affordability into account when considering pay.

He added: “We have set out what is affordable given the very significant challenges in public finances.”

Hancock said the Westminster Government had not followed the administration in Scotland in agreeing a bonus for NHS staff.

His comments came at the end of a day which saw the main nurses’ union setting up a £35 million industrial action fund, and calls for the public to support a slow hand clap next week against the Government’s pay proposals.

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The council of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it was determined to have the finances available to its members should they wish to take action.

It said: “In setting up this fund, the RCN will create the UK’s largest union strike fund overnight. The next steps will be decided in conjunction with our members.”

Health minister Nadine Dorries said earlier that the Government could not afford to give NHS staff in England a pay rise of more than 1%, following the revelation that the figure had been submitted to the sector’s pay review body (PRB).

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Unite national officer for health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, told the PA news agency: “Following yesterday’s kick-in-the-teeth announcement that the Government wants to peg NHS pay at 1% for 2021-22, Unite will be considering all its options, including the holding of an industrial action ballot, as our pay campaign mounts in the coming weeks.

“We will be fully consulting our members on the next steps, given that inflation could be 2% by the end of 2021, so what Prime Minister Boris Johnson is recommending is another pay cut in real terms.”

Rachel Harrison, national officer of the GMB union, said: “NHS workers are furious at the Government’s recommendation of a 1% pay increase, published in their evidence to the PRB late yesterday afternoon – six weeks late.

“Ministers have followed this with an even more contemptuous defence of the paltry increase – essentially saying ‘It’s better than nothing’.

“It’s dismissive and insulting to NHS workers who have had an incredibly tough year keeping us all safe.”

Unison urged people to take part in a slow hand clap at 8pm next Thursday against the 1% offer, mirroring the weekly show of support last year for the NHS.

Mel, a staff nurse, said the Government’s proposed 1% pay rise for NHS staff was an “insult” and “hypocrisy in its greatest form”.

She said increase for her would equate to an extra £3.50 a week.

“We have healthcare staff using food banks, so £3.50 is not going to improve their situation in any way, shape or form,” she added.

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“I am angry beyond words both for myself but for my colleagues who I see struggle daily.”

It comes as the High Court found the UK Government unlawfully failed to publish details of more than 500 coronavirus-related contracts within the required time.

The Good Law Project took legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for its “wholesale failure” to disclose details of contracts agreed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: Court order shows ‘Boris Johnson misled parliament over Covid-19 contracts’

The Government is required by law to publish a “contract award notice” within 30 days of the award of any contracts for public goods or services worth more than £120,000.

At a hearing last month, the campaigners argued there had been a “dismal” failure by the DHSC to comply with the obligation. They also claimed the Government was breaching its own transparency policy.

In a ruling last month, Justice Chamberlain said that “in a substantial number of cases, the Secretary of State [Health Secretary Matt Hancock] breached his legal obligation to publish contract award notices within 30 days of the award of contracts”.

He added: “There is also no dispute that the Secretary of State failed to publish redacted contracts in accordance with the transparency policy.”

In a further ruling today, the judge said the DHSC “acted unlawfully by failing to publish contract award notices for relevant contracts for supplies and services relating to Covid-19 within the 30-day period required … in respect of 504 of the 535 contracts awarded on or before October 7 2020 – i.e. 94%”.

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Justice Chamberlain also said: “The defendant has published 608 out of 708 relevant contracts for supplies and services relating to Covid-19 awarded on or before October 7 2020.

“In some or all of these cases, the defendant acted unlawfully by failing to publish the contracts within the period set out in the (transparency policy).

“The Secretary of State has now produced what he says are the correct figures showing the extent of compliance with (the 30-day requirement) but cannot produce equivalent figures for compliance with the transparency policy.

“This is because the date on which the contract is uploaded is not recorded on the Contracts Finder database, so it has not been possible to calculate how many were published within the timescales set out in the transparency policy.”

He said the Good Law Project “complains about the omission of these latter figures and notes that 100 contracts still appear to be outstanding on Contracts Finder, nearly five months after the claim was issued”.

The judge said: “It is unfortunate that the correct figures for compliance with the transparency policy are not available, but they are not – and there is nothing the court can do about it.”

Justice Chamberlain also ordered the DHSC to pay £85,000 towards the Good Law Project’s costs.

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