An insight into the Scottish pension negotiations
Posted on 12 November 2012 by Alan Robertson
There are usually pretty strict rules around negotiations, and they normally include something about confidentiality. Well, in the case of the ongoing Scottish pension negotiations, I really wish there was something that I couldn’t tell you about.
But so little has happened, there is literally nothing to keep from you.
The last six months of negotiations have been hugely frustrating for me and for other NHS unions in Scotland. We started in the spring with a sense of optimism following the enthusiastic launch of negotiations by the Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon. We really thought that there was the will and the way to come up with something different, something better than the imposed England and Wales pensions deal. A dozen or so negotiating meetings later, and as we head for a possible winter of discontent, Nicola’s long gone and so has any enthusiasm or optimism.
If we’re being generous to the Scottish Government, they will say that they share our frustrations. They will say that every exchange of letters with Danny Alexander has squeezed a little more their room for manoeuvre and that, even now, six months down the line, they still don’t know for sure whether they can do anything over pension age.
Our negotiating partners – the employers and civil servants – are also irritated and annoyed by the external barriers to making any progress. And whilst we’re being generous, I would say that the employers in Scotland really have put the right resources into this set of negotiations. Something we’re not used to – and long may it continue. We’ve had a frank and open discussion, access to excellent and independent actuarial advice and have been given lots of useful information and data.
But we’ve still got nowhere on the things that really matter. Whilst it is true that they can blame the coalition government for some things, the excuse that “a big boy did it and ran away” can only go so far. There are things that this Scottish Government can do if it really wants to – irrespective of the Treasury. Alex Neil, the new Health Secretary, can find the money to make a difference on employee contributions – so that the burden does not fall unfairly on the NHS workforce. At the moment he is not choosing to do that.
So that is why we’re at this point of an unprecedented pensions dispute, over employee contributions in particular, and we have a strike ballot in Scotland. This action can be stopped – Mr Neil has it in his power, but time is running out.
With nothing to discuss, the latest two negotiating meetings have been cancelled. We need to get back round the table for meaningful discussions, but there are currently no more dates in the diary.
I hope that Mr Neil makes sure that the NHS is prepared for strike action in December as there is a very real chance he will have to preside over the first doctors’ strike in a generation. Let’s hope we don’t get that far.
Alan Robertson is BMA pensions committee chair