Unions fear government will bypass Commons vote on student bursary cut

Secondary legislation might be used instead of full scrutiny in parliament 

Unions are concerned that the government will push through plans to scrap the nursing student bursary despite any opposition presented in a public consultation. 

Representatives from the RCN, Unison and Unite said they understand the government is considering using secondary legislation to approve the proposals instead of subjecting them to full
scrutiny in parliament.

They also believe the public consultation might be limited to the minimum of six weeks.

In November, chancellor George Osborne announced plans to replace the bursary with student loans from September 2017. 

He also said the limit on the number of training places will be removed to allow an extra 10,000 nurses to train in the next five years.

Nursing students marched against the plans last month, and a week of further action is starting today. 

A petition opposing the bursary plans has been signed by more than 150,000 people.

Unite national officer for health Barrie Brown said that significant numbers of Tory backbenchers could oppose the plans.

He added: ‘They will be getting feedback from their constituents, saying it is ruining the chance of their son or daughter going on to be a nurse.’

The government used a delegated legislation committee to pass the scrapping of maintenance grants for students last month, bypassing the need for a vote in the House of Commons.

Mr Brown said this would be an option for the government in pursuing the bursary cut, ‘if they want to avoid the risk of backbench opposition’.

Unison head of nursing Gail Adams said she fears the use of delegated powers and believes the ‘decision has already been made behind closed doors’.

She added: ‘We have had no preview of the format the consultation will take – other than knowing that it will focus on the implementation and not the principle behind the plan.’

At a debate on the bursary last month, Labour MP Wes Streeting asked health minister Ben Gummer to give his assurance that bursaries would be debated and voted on in parliament.

Mr Gummer said he cannot commit other ministers to debates but promised to pass the request to his senior colleagues.

RCN head of policy Howard Catton said the public consultation should run for 12 weeks to help consider the effects on students fully.

The Department of Health said details about the consultation were not available yet, but all feedback would be welcome.

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