Belfast Telegraph

Demand withheld pay award for Northern Ireland nurses issued immediately as it's revealed civil servants can sign it off

£26m sitting for health workers

Millions in pay for nurses and other health workers has been withheld in Northern Ireland.
Millions in pay for nurses and other health workers has been withheld in Northern Ireland.

There is no need for a Stormont minister to be in place to issue a pay award for Northern Ireland nurses and other health workers, it has been revealed.

The BBC Stephen Nolan show revealed on Thursday power to release the £26million in funds rests with the head of the civil service David Sterling.

The Executive Office said it was working on resolving the issue as soon as possible.

In the chancellor's budget last month a 1% pay award was made for all health service staff across the UK. However, as health is a Stormont matter, the Northern Ireland Office said it would be best if a minister was in place to rubber stamp the pay award but civil servants do have the ability to make the award.

Sinn Fein leader and former health minister Michelle O'Neill has called on the money to be handed to workers immediately.

If an Executive has been in place, under the former set up it would have been Mrs O'Neill's fellow Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O'Muilleoir in his role as finance minister who would have made the decision.

The DUP is also understood to be calling for the money to be released immediately.

Speaking on the BBC Radio Ulster programme one nurse said it was frustrating the pay award could be made. He said he was working extra shifts just to make ends meet.

"We just want our 1% pay rise," he said.

SDLP health spokesman Mark H Durkan said there were many questions over the decision taken and not taken by civil servants, particularly after the Hightown incinerator plan was approved. As Environment Minister he blocked planning approval for the controversial energy plant.

"Theses pay awards need to be agreed," he said.

"We should have elected representatives in place to make theses decision so that instead of having Michelle O'Neill saying civil servants should issue a pay award we would have ministers in place saying the money must be awarded.

"This situation is untenable."

The Department of Health said the matter of pay for staff was an issue for the Department of Finance. It said it is working to resolve the issue.

A finance spokesman said: “Pay awards for individual staff groups need to be agreed in line with overarching Northern Ireland public sector pay policy.

"The setting of pay policy has been a matter for the Minister of Finance to determine, and in the absence of an Executive, Northern Ireland pay policy has not yet been set for 2017/18. In the current circumstances, consideration is being given as to how this issue can be resolved as soon as possible.”

A spokesman for The Executive Office said: “As the line provided by the NIO said, ‘These are decisions which should rightly be for a restored Executive to take forward'.

“In the absence of Ministers the Department of Finance has been working with all government departments to ensure public services continue to be provided using the resources available.

“In the current circumstances, consideration is being given by the Department of Finance in conjunction with the NICS Board as to how issues such as pay awards can be resolved as soon as possible taking into account the relevant legal and financial issues.”

A UK Government spokeswoman added: "As we have said previously, the Budget Act 2017 confirmed departmental spending limits and provided legislative authority for spending, but did not change that the NICS remain responsible and accountable for spending decisions in the absence of an Executive.

"As the Secretary of State made clear during the Budget Act, spending decisions remain devolved. In the continued absence of an Executive, those decisions fall to the Northern Ireland Civil Service. But we are clear that those decisions should rightly be for a restored Executive to take forward, and that is why securing the return of devolved, power-sharing government will remain our focus."

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