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Nicola Sturgeon's offer to nurses poses challenge to unions and employers

The more Scotland goes its own way on pay, the more it will have to be equipped to handle its own processes

The more Scotland goes its own way on pay, the more it will have to be equipped to handle its own processes


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Another pay announcement, another step away from UK-wide pay determination for nurses? 

In a bid to beat the UK government announcement of the three-year NHS pay deal in England, first minister for Scotland Nicola Sturgeon announced in early June an interim pay rise of 3% for NHS staff in Scotland. 

Make no mistake, the Scottish Government was making a political point by the timing of the announcement. The aim was to draw a clear line between Scotland and England, and show the Scottish Government as being more ‘responsive’ to NHS staff needs. 

RELATED: NHS nurses in England to get their biggest pay rise for a decade

This interim pay award has now been followed by an agreement between the Scottish Government and the joint health trade unions for a proposed three-year pay deal for NHS staff in Scotland. 

The deal, announced on June 25 claims that the majority of NHS staff will receive a 9% increase over three years, combined with restructuring of existing pay bands. Several issues, including sickness absence, appraisal and incremental progression, remain on the table for further negotiation.

End result

The RCN in Scotland and other unions will now consult their members, with the result of the consultation likely to be known by mid-August.   

Even if the end result looks similar either side of the border, the underlying point is that the timing and processes have been different in Scotland from England. 

In politics, the ‘look’ is what matters. The pro-independence Scottish Government can present itself as doing its own thing on NHS nurses’ pay and, by its own assessment, doing it better. 

RELATED: Why NHS pay increase needs to mark the start of better deals for all the UK's nurses

With different electoral cycles and different political priorities in devolved Scotland than at Westminster, this is inevitable. But it gives a challenge to the unions, and employers, in Scotland. 

The more Scotland does things differently on pay, the more it will have to be equipped with the capacity to handle its own pay determination processes. Full devolution means parallel processes. 


James Buchan is professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh 

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