Andrew Marr: 'Was the pay offer for striking NHS workers an attempt to move on from a Budget that hasn't landed?'

16 March 2023, 18:24

Andrew Marr has asked if the NHS pay deal announcement may have been timed 'to move on' from the Budget
Andrew Marr has asked if the NHS pay deal announcement may have been timed 'to move on' from the Budget. Picture: LBC

By Kit Heren

The timing of the pay deal offered to striking NHS staff suggests it may have been an attempt to generate positive headlines after a Budget that "has not landed in quite the way ministers hoped," Andrew Marr has said.

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Speaking on LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr on Thursday, the presenter suggested that the timing of a 5% pay rise offered to unions representing ambulance workers and nurses, one day after a Budget, was "not an accident".

Many observers had remarked on Wednesday that it was striking that Jeremy Hunt had made no mention in the Budget of pay deals for striking public sector workers.

The Chancellor may have hoped before the Budget announcement for coverage to focus on the 'back to work' budget helping people back into employment with measures like free childcare for all children under the age of 5.

But much reporting focused on the increased tax burden and the record drop in household incomes over a two-year period, both set out by the Office for Budget Responsibility in the wake of the Budget.

Andrew Marr reacts to breakthrough in negotiations and Spring Budget

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Andrew said on Thursday: "So, this is really very weird. The day after a budget what happens is this: the government goes around trumpeting about how successful and important it was. That's the rhythm. That's the political dance, part of the fight to shape the narrative about what the budget meant.

"Only this year, Jeremy Hunt’s budget was immediately followed by this afternoon’s news of a breakthrough in the long-running fight with nurses and ambulance drivers - frankly, for most people, vastly more important than any budget measure. Rishi Sunak even popped up for a brief interview - about as rare as sighting these days as a red squirrel in Mayfair."

Jeremy Hunt ahead of the Budget
Jeremy Hunt ahead of the Budget. Picture: Getty

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Andrew added: "Given that this was a negotiation between union leaders and ministers, the timing of today’s announcement is mostly in Mr Sunak’s and Mr Hunt’s hands. It's not an accident. So why now?

"Yesterday you’d have expected something on public sector pay in the budget, particularly since that was the biggest day of general strike action in many months. But not a cheep. So is this a tacit admission that the budget has not landed in quite the way ministers hoped? 

"All that stuff about the highest tax take since the 1940s, and the billion pound giveaway to some of the richest people, while most people face the tightest two-year squeeze on their incomes since records began. That was what grabbed the headlines more than the “back to work budget” Jeremy Hunt hoped he was delivering.

"So maybe, yes, it was time to move on to a different story.

"We don't know yet, of course, how nurses and ambulance staff themselves will actually vote in response to this offer;  one senior voice inside the RCN told me earlier on she thought it was a pretty low offer, and its reception would depend on whether there was an unspoken understanding that next year’s, when Mr Hunt will have more to spend, would be better. 

"Still given the devastating effect on the NHS and the general sense of chaos the strikes have summoned up ending them would be really big and really good news."