'No boycott' of the NHS Pay Review Body - Why the SoR is still submitting evidence

SoR Executive Director for Industrial Strategy & Member Relations Dean Rogers explains the media confusion over union strategy

Published: 24 January 2023 Trade Union & IR

Following wide media coverage in early January, members could be forgiven for thinking that the SoR had, alongside the 14 Agenda for Change (AfC) unions, boycotted the 2023 NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) process.

This “boycott” was widely reported across the media, however, this is not the case. We have submitted written evidence to the PRB and will be giving further oral evidence in early February.

Every year the 14 unions commission and submit joint evidence to the PRB. This focuses on the wider economic arguments for a reasonable pay award and sets out the headlines of what we want the PRB to recommend as a general award. In addition, some unions have also traditionally submitted further supporting evidence stating the arguments through the lens of their particular profession.

After the disappointing 2022-23 PRB recommendation and award there was a consensus that the process was not delivering credible outcomes for AfC grades. In particular, there was concern about how the government was consistently constraining the process by setting an inadequate remit and directing the PRB towards a recommendation that was clearly not enough.

Independence of the PRB

Our concerns about the independence of the PRB were amplified as industrial action approached, and the new health secretary Stephen Barclay very publicly sought to hide behind the “independence“ of the PRB to justify not meeting with unions.

As a protest, all of the unions – including the SoR – agreed not to formally submit the joint evidence we had commissioned for 2023. We would instead publish it to everyone on 11 January – the day evidence was due.

It was also agreed this would not impact on any union still wanting to submit their own evidence and state their case through the lens of their profession. However, when unions announced we would not be submitting joint evidence the nuance was lost and the position was widely misreported as 14 unions “boycotting” the whole PRB process for 2023.

We are among the unions who continued to submit evidence, alongside for example the Royal College of Midwives. We had three principal reasons for doing so.

Reasons for giving evidence

Firstly, it is important we highlight whenever and to whoever we can how critical medical imaging and radiographers are. Radiography is now the keystone to sustaining all and any strategies to improve the nations’ health.

Secondly, whatever concerns we have about the performance of the PRB we can still see why we might want an improved version. The PRB was introduced decades ago because public sector pay had become too “political”.

The sensible approach is one where all stakeholders contribute to and then make note of independently produced research and recommendations, both about what level of resourcing is needed to sustain a healthy NHS workforce and how those resources may be distributed. Government would then set the budget and unions would negotiate with employers.

So a working PRB process, or something like it, should be part of the long term solution. This broad position has consistently been endorsed by SoR Annual Delegate Conference debates, including in 2022 – so we were in no position to not submit our own evidence in 2023.

Thirdly, we publish our PRB evidence widely – not just to the PRB. 2023 is a critical year for the NHS. Our evidence will be the basis for wider campaigning and engagement by the SoR, including in the run up to a General Election – sometime before December 2024. Even if the PRB is not able to act on our recommendations, others can see and use our evidence and ideas to help their own thinking around what needs to happen to save our NHS.

Amplifying our position

If we had not produced any evidence, then this case would still have to be made. Having submitted it amplifies our own political independence and invites anyone into our discussion.

Therefore we hope members understand why we have submitted evidence when many partner unions have chosen not to – and also why we have submitted our own evidence whilst supporting the collective decision to publish but not submit the joint union case.

Our evidence directly challenges the performance of the PRB and asks them to prove us wrong - using the permission that the health secretary has seemingly granted them to be more brave and independent.

To read the SoR evidence in full, visit www.sor.org/paycampaign

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