Clashes over regional pay

HARTLEPOOL MP Iain Wright believes regional pay in the NHS is “not the way” for the Government to rebalance the economy geographically.

Mr Wright was speaking during an opposition day debate in the House of Commons which saw Labour MPs clash with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Wright said: “If the major problems of the economy are based upon lack of demand, eroding confidence from consumers, households and businesses, and structural imbalances in the regional economies, especially relative to London, the South-East and especially the North-East, it just seems economically ludicrous to contemplate policies which first widen the regional imbalance, restrict demand still further and result in further austerity in the private sector.

“If the Government wishes to rebalance the economy geographically, as I think it should, regional pay, race to the bottom, is certainly not the way to do it.”

During the debate, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said national pay in the NHS is “being unpicked” and the health service is “fragmenting before our eyes”.

Mr Hunt branded Mr Burnham’s comments a “shocking attempt to talk down the NHS, to misrepresent my views and misrepresent the views of the Government”.

Mr Burnham said: “North Tees and Hartlepool have issued 5,452 staff with 90-day notices as a precursor to forcing them to sign new non-Agenda for Change contracts.

“Staff who refused to sign are threatened with the sack by March 2013 and now South Tees trust is considering a similar move.”

Mr Hunt insisted the Government was not advocating the scrapping of national pay scales and was instead seeking to provide “sensible flexibility in pay across the whole country”.

Meanwhile Mr Wright quizzed Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in Parliament about morale among police officers.

Mr Clegg was standing in for David Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions and was asked by the town’s MP to comment on police morale.

Mr Wright said: “The former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens has said police morale is at national crisis levels.

“Is he right and why is that the case?”

In response Mr Clegg said: “As you will also know, overall crime is down by six per cent. Victim satisfaction with the police has actually gone up. Response times to emergency calls has been maintained or improved. Crime has fallen in your own constituency.

“When will you congratulate the police rather than denigrate the police on doing a difficult job dealing with savings as everybody has to whilst keeping the public safe?”

It came after Mr Wright joked to fellow MPs to the expense of Mr Clegg.

Mr Clegg congratulated Barack Obama on his re-election as US president.

He said: “I am sure the House will want to join me in congratulating President Obama on his election victory last night.”

He added: “We look forward to continuing the Government’s work with him in building a more prosperous, more free and more stable world.”

Mr Wright then joked: “President Obama will be relieved to get the support of the Deputy Prime Minister.”

l MP writes: Page 35