National Health Service Employees (Agenda for Change)

Health and Wellbeing – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 28 June 2007.

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Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party 2:15, 28 June 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive what steps are being taken to ensure that NHS employees are receiving all the benefits that they are entitled to through agenda for change. (S3O-399)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

There are two key strands to the benefits that staff receive under agenda for change. First, since October 2004, many staff have benefited from standardisation of the non-pay elements of agenda for change, such as the length of the working week and annual leave entitlement. Many staff have also gained financially under the new pay arrangements, and the Scottish ministers have guaranteed that no staff member's salary will drop as a result of the new system, with pay protection being applied to the small proportion of staff—currently less than 5 per cent—who require it. Health boards are aware of the need to complete the processes of assimilation into the new system and payment of arrears as quickly as possible.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

I thank the cabinet secretary and apologise for the technical nature of my question.

In circumstances where a member of health board staff is subject to protection arrangements that were set up prior to their assimilation into agenda for change, does the minister agree that it is contrary to the detail and the spirit of national and local policies on protection for any increase in basic earnings that arise as a consequence of that assimilation to be offset against the protection, as is happening in Tayside NHS Board, thus resulting in individuals getting no benefit from agenda for change?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I undertake to write to Roseanna Cunningham about the specifics of her question, but I will explain some more of the background to the current arrangements.

Agenda for change was negotiated under the previous Administration, but during the development of the arrangements it was recognised that for a small proportion of staff—currently 4.5 per cent in Scotland—agenda for change pay would be less than their previous pay. Although a position of complete no detriment was not achievable, there was consensus that it would be unfair for staff to receive a reduction in salary. It was therefore agreed, in partnership with the trade unions, that staff in such a position would receive pay protection.

Pay protection applies in the other United Kingdom health services for a maximum of five years, but in Scotland it will remain in place for as long as individual staff require it. That means that no member of staff in the NHS in Scotland will suffer a cut in salary as a result of the implementation of agenda for change. Pay protection will be applied to any individuals who have been affected until such time as their pay under agenda for change overtakes their protected pay, at which point they will begin to receive annual pay uplifts.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

The cabinet secretary is right to recognise the generous arrangements in Scotland for agenda for change. I share her desire to ensure that we take care of assimilation and back pay as quickly as possible. Members sent me a number of letters on the issue when I was the Minister for Health and Community Care.

What progress is being made on the knowledge and skills framework and on the possibility of our well-trained staff being more flexible and increasing their skills in the national health service? That is at the heart of how we will change the future of the NHS. Pay assimilation and back pay are important issues, but we must also progress the knowledge and skills framework.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Andy Kerr may be interested if I update him on the progress that has been made towards assimilation and the payment of arrears. Ninety per cent of those who have been job matched—124,000 staff—have been assimilated and are being paid on agenda for change pay scales. In addition, 77,000 staff—nearly 60 per cent of those who have been job matched and assimilated—have been assessed for arrears and have had arrears paid where appropriate.

Uncharacteristically, I agree with Andy Kerr on the other issue that he raised. Agenda for change is a package of modernised terms and conditions. I do not underestimate for a minute the value of pay, but there are significant non-pay benefits in the new arrangements, for example relating to annual leave and working hours. In addition, agenda for change was designed to improve all aspects of equal opportunity and diversity, especially in the area of careers and training opportunities. As the biggest of the NHS pay modernisation schemes, it is well on track.