Tory MPs have blasted Nicola Sturgeon over her pre-election pledge to boost the pay of NHS staff by four per cent as they claimed she could never afford such a move if Scotland was independent.
The SNP leader trolled Boris Johnson by announcing the policy last night in what critics viewed as a blatant giveaway as the Scottish election campaign formally gets underway.
Ms Sturgeon’s pay hike contrasts sharply with the one per cent being mooted in England and it has prompted an immediate backlash over UK funding arrangements.
Tory MPs said the timing of the announcement was ‘egregious’ and amounts to a ‘pre-election inducement to vote for the SNP’ as the clock ticks down to the Holyrood poll in May.
They said the Scottish First Minister was only able to make the pledge thanks to the ‘unfair’ Barnett Formula which is used by the UK Government to figure out how much funding should be given to the other home nations when it decides to spend more or less on something in England.
Official statistics published last year showed public spending per person north of the border was almost £2,000 more than the UK average.
Conservative figures said that while Ms Sturgeon ‘moans and groans’ about the UK as part of her independence drive ‘it is only because of the United Kingdom that she can give more money to nurses’.
More than 154,000 NHS Scotland staff are to be offered the hike of at least four per cent.
The move will benefit employees with contracts under the Agenda for Change system, meaning staff on the lowest pay point could get a 5.4 per cent increase.
Staff on pay bands 1 to 7 would receive at least a 4 per cent pay rise compared with 2020/21, with workers earning less than £25,000 in 2020/21 guaranteed a minimum increase of more than £1,000 in 2021/22.
Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, last night pledged a pay rise of four per cent for NHS workers in Scotland
The four per cent hike in Scotland is in sharp contrast to the one per cent mooted by Boris Johnson for NHS workers in England
The Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland report (Gers) published in August last year showed that Scotland’s fiscal deficit had grown to 8.6 per cent of GDP in the 2019/20 financial year, with government spending £15.1billion more than was received in revenues
Public spending per person in Scotland is 17 PER CENT higher than the UK average
Just how different is public spending in the four home nations?
Public spending per person in Scotland was 17 per cent higher than the UK average in 2019/20, according to official statistics published by the House of Commons Library.
For the UK as a whole, public spending per person was £9,895.
In England, the number was three per cent below that UK average with £9,604.
But this compares to Scotland where the number was £11,566.
In Wales the number was £10,929 and in Northern Ireland it was £11,987.
What is the Barnett Formula?
It is a system used by the UK Government to figure out how much funding should be given to the other home nations when it decides to spend more or less on something in England.
It was devised by the former Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury Joel Barnett back in 1978.
While it has no standing in law it has now been used by the Treasury for more than 40 years to calculate funding figures.
Why is it so controversial?
The amount of money handed out to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the form of a block grant from Westminster is calculated based on population and what powers have been devolved from Whitehall.
In theory this should mean that spending should go up and down equally.
But the calculations are complicated and Scotland started with higher spending per head when the formula was first used which means that discrepancy is baked into the system.
The formula was only ever supposed to be temporary and even its architect said in 2014 that it was ‘unfair and should be stopped’.
Numbers published in August last year showed that total public sector expenditure for the benefit of Scotland, including both UK and Scottish government spending, had increased by just over three per cent to £81billion.
That was equivalent to £14,829 being spent on public services per person in Scotland, some £1,633 per person greater than the UK average.
The spending gap has been largely blamed on the Barnett Formula, with the numbers contained in Holyrood’s annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (Gers) report reigniting long-running calls for the formula to be overhauled.
Tory MP Peter Bone said Ms Sturgeon’s NHS pay pledge is a ‘practical example’ of the ‘injustice’ of the current Barnett Formula.
He told MailOnline: ‘There is real concern in my constituency because in the East Midlands we get thousands of pounds less per head of population spent on us compared to Scotland and we pay the same taxes.
‘My constituents, not unreasonably, say why is it that Scotland gets all this extra money on public expenditure and we don’t?
‘This is a practical example of where the injustice comes. If we had an even spread of public expenditure, we could pay nurses more money across the whole of the United Kingdom.
‘But this unfair system where Scotland gets extra money gives them an advantage, my constituents just don’t see the basis for it.’
Mr Bone added: ‘I find it very difficult when Sturgeon moans and groans about the United Kingdom – it is only because of the United Kingdom that she can give more money to nurses.’
Another Tory MP said that ‘Scotland does extremely well out of the Barnett Formula’ and public spending levels would fall if the country was independent.
They said: ‘The timing is egregious. It has been done in the immediate run up to the Scottish elections and before purdah starts.
‘The optics of it are really very bad. I think it does look as if the Scottish government are putting the money in as a pre-election inducement to vote for the SNP.’
But they warned that changing the Barnett Formula and reducing funding in Scotland could hand Ms Sturgeon a major PR win in her bid to split from the UK.
They said: ‘The fact that the Scottish exchequer, if there ever were one, could never possibly afford to fund public services at the current rate if Scotland were to be independent, wouldn’t enter the equation. It would be used for short term political gain.’
The Gers report showed that Scotland’s fiscal deficit had grown to 8.6 per cent of GDP in the 2019/20 financial year, with government spending £15.1billion more than was received in revenues.
The deficit had increased from 7.4 per cent the previous year, while the UK’s deficit stood at 2.5 per cent up from 1.9 per cent.
The deficit figures were described by Scottish Tories as a ‘hammer blow’ to Ms Sturgeon’s independence plans.
But Ms Sturgeon insisted at the time that the numbers were a ‘reflection of Scotland’s fiscal position in the United Kingdom, not a reflection of how Scotland would fare as an independent country’.
Union bosses said Ms Sturgeon’s decision on NHS pay should ‘shame’ the UK Government into following suit. Unison said the decision ‘shows where there’s a political will there’s most definitely a way’.
Mr Johnson hinted this morning that nurses in England may get a pay rise above the one per cent currently on offer.
He told reporters: ‘We have asked the public sector pay review body to look at what more can be done for nurses, in particular, exceptionally.’
Holyrood entered its pre-election recess period last night, with the Tories launching their campaign today.
At 10pm Ms Sturgeon tweeted: ‘Our NHS staff deserve more than applause and 1 per cent is not enough.
‘@scotgov is offering a 4 per cent pay rise, which would deliver guaranteed minimum increase of £1,000 for those earning less than £25,000 & 5.4 per cent increase for staff on lowest pay band… and all backdated to December 2020.’
The pay increase comes after NHS workers in Scotland also received a one-off £500 payment from the Scottish Government as a thank you for their work during the coronavirus pandemic.
Among those included in Agenda for Change are nurses, paramedics and allied health professionals, as well as domestic, healthcare support staff, porters and other frontline health workers.
The Scottish Government said the deal, if accepted, will be the ‘most generous National Health Service pay uplift anywhere in the UK’.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman tweeted that the move was ‘making the applause real’.
Health spending represents the second biggest outlay for the Scottish Government according to the Gers report
Ms Sturgeon said the one per cent pay rise mooted in England ‘is not enough’ as she promised a four per cent increase
Staff at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow during the pandemic
In a statement, she said: ‘Following positive discussions with NHS unions and employees, the Scottish Government has put forward an offer of the biggest single pay uplift since devolution for NHS Agenda for Change staff.
‘Over 154,000 staff would benefit from this rise, which would see the average pay of a frontline NHS nurse rise by over £1,200 a year.
‘This deal also includes support staff such as domestic staff, porters and healthcare support workers, the backbone of our services, who would see pay rises of over £1,000 – uplifts of between 4 per cent -5.4 per cent.
‘The uplift will be backdated from December 1 2020, rather than the usual April 1 2021, meaning all those covered by the deal will receive an extra benefit.
‘This has been an exceptionally challenging year for our health service and I am pleased that the Scottish Government is able to recognise the service and dedication of our healthcare staff.’
Colin Poolman, Scottish Terms and Conditions Committee (STAC) chairman and Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland senior officer, described the timescale for negotiations as ‘tight as a result of the forthcoming election but we have now received an offer for a one-year pay deal’.
Willie Duffy, STAC staffside secretary and Unison regional organiser, added: ‘Each of the individual trade unions will now enter into discussions with their members on the offer.’