The whole planet is living its worse health crisis since the end of World War 2, and here in the UK, national and local governments are unfortunately not doing much to support NHS staff. Apart from giving thanks and encouraging clapping, gestures which are not protecting them or helping anyhow.
Moreover, the authorities have rejected calls to raise the current salaries of nurses. On Sunday (5 April), the Health Secretary Matt Hancock even said on the Andrew Marr show that though he is “sympathetic” to calls for nurses to receive a pay rise, the time was not right to discuss salary and conditions of living of the health workers.
“Everybody wants to support our nurses right now, and I’m sure there will be a time to debate things like that,” he stated. “At the moment, the thing that we’re working on is how to get through this. So I’m very sympathetic to that argument but now is not the moment to enter into a pay negotiation, now is the moment for everybody to be doing their very best.” But is he doing his “very best”?
At the very same time, all over the country, some mayors and city councillors have voted their own pay rise and will be using public money, raised from taxpayers, for themselves while they are sitting at home.
In Bristol, the mayor Marvin Rees is getting a £9,000 pay rise.
Set to try to “match an MP salary”, the rise has been approved late in March by the members of the City Council – for themselves, as local reporter Adam Postans wrote on 25 March 2020. The councillors were not supposed to vote for their own pay rise; however; they were set in 2019 to vote for an increase to come into place after the local elections scheduled for May 2020. These elections have now been postponed for a year by the British government, due to the current pandemic. But the councillors, mayor and deputy mayors still intend to increase their salaries, while freezing the ones of top officers. And of course not increasing help for NHS or “key” workers.
This measure will cost council taxpayers an extra £180,000 per year.
The increases include £9,000 a year for mayor Marvin Rees, £5,500 for deputy mayors Craig Cheney and Asher Craig and £3,500 for the seven other cabinet members. The basic allowance for all 70 councillors also rose by about £1,000 from the current level of £12,000. The two deputy mayors will be paid £39,946 a year from May, with cabinet members receiving £37,946. In total, the increases take the councillors’ wage bill from £1.28million to about £1.46million. The mayor of Bristol’s salary alone is increased by 12.6%, going from £70,605 to £79,468, all to, again, “match that of an MP”.
Since then, the decision has been wildly criticised in Bristol, on Twitter, Facebook, local radio and newspapers, etc. But the mayor insisted last week that he deserves a raise. Despite the pandemic, speaking to his fellow citizens during a Facebook Live event, he said:
“An independent panel spends considerable time looking at the rate of pay of elected members. They look at the job, they look at comparable pay in other authorities – and then they come back with a recommendation. My position has been, not to cross the line and get involved in that process, other than to support whatever the panel says.”
And, the bad news is that Bristol is not the only city concerned.
In 2019, Newcastle councillors agreed to give themselves pay rises – costing taxpayers an extra £26,000 a year, which was approved in November 2019.
On 15 December 2019, a local online magazine reported that York councillors were set for significant pay rises. The authority’s Independent Remuneration Panel Report 2019 has recommended the basic allowance for councillors increases by more than 12%. And it says the payments for members with special responsibilities should rise by up to 50%.
In Kent, an £8.4m council tax hike for policing in Kent has been approved on 7 February 2020. The increases came after Kent police and crime commissioner Matthew Scott’s funding proposal for the next financial year was unanimously approved by councillors at Maidstone County Hall on 6 February.
This is putting British public services to shame.
As, meanwhile, in Australia, the city of Brisbane has decided a “two-year pay freeze for councillors and council staff”, as local reporters wrote on 1 April. Brisbane City Council will attempt to save $36 million by issuing this two-year pay freeze, to prepare its $3.1 billion budget against the coronavirus pandemic.
Here in the UK, the very same Matt Hancock told Premier League players to “play their part” and take pay cuts. But indeed if it’s not to support nurses struggling today, what is it for? This call is now reported all over Europe and making much noise in the media. He highlighted the death of NHS frontline workers in the battle against coronavirus, and asked what high-earning footballers are doing in this country to help others…
What are our elected officials doing in this country to help?
Let’s remind our readers that according to Unison, the starting salary for a nurse is £24,214. And the more than 300,000 nurses have suffered real-terms pay cuts due to government-imposed wage restraints over the past decade.
In comparison, the basic annual salary for a Member of Parliament is £79,468, and they also receive expenses to cover the costs of running an office, employing staff, having somewhere to live in London or their constituency, and travelling between Parliament and their constituency…
They are now mainly sitting at home, to protect us all, unlike the Prime Minister, who ignored the basic medical advice.
I believe on the contrary that if there is a time to have the conversation about the values of “key workers”, and especially health workers and the NHS, the time is now.