Civil Service Leaders Speak Out After Health Talks Collapse

Joint statement on industrial action.

Civil service leaders have spoken of their deep regret that trade unions are proceeding with industrial action in the health and social care system.

Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said: “Intensive contingency planning is being undertaken to mitigate the impact of industrial action on patients and other service users.

“It is nevertheless inevitable that there will be an impact on patients. This has been publicly acknowledged by the trade union leadership.

“I can assure everyone that the Department did everything in its power to prevent industrial action. This included a pay offer that would add 2.1% to the pay bill for Agenda for Change staff.

“In addition, we proposed an independently-facilitated process to develop longer term solutions on pay and staffing issues in nursing and the wider HSC workforce.

“The budgetary pressures on health and other parts of the public sector are very well known.

“In the absence of Ministers, Departments are constrained in the actions they can take. We continue to face unprecedented challenges in Northern Ireland and we trust trade unions appreciate that public servants in the civil service are trying to do their best in a very difficult situation.”

The Head of the Civil Service David Sterling said:  “Together with my Permanent Secretary colleagues, I am very aware of the deep frustrations in public sector workforces.

“This reflects many successive years of budgetary pressures and pay restraint.

“The frustrations are very evident in a number of sectors and it is a matter of great regret for us all to see discontent of this level among colleagues.

“There are no easy fixes in our current situation to these problems but dialogue offers the best way forward.”

Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance Sue Gray said: “The 2019/20 budgetary position is hugely challenging.

“The Department of Health budget has been prioritised and protected as far as possible in the context of a very challenging environment in which we are operating and the many public services which are facing financial pressures. There is no doubt that Departments face difficult decisions with Departments having to prioritise the funding of pay awards against the other pressures facing essential public services.

“Unfortunately at this point in the financial year all available funding has been allocated to Departments.

“The NICS Board is keen that there is engagement prior to the setting of the 2020/21 Budget. As part of this, my Department has commissioned an independent study to examine the labour market and other issues that affect public sector pay in Northern Ireland. This will take account of the views of local public sector employers, employer organisations and trade unions.”


The Department’s pay offer involves a projected £51.17m cost to the health budget this year.

The Department wanted to offer a 3% overall increase to match the Agenda for Change increase in England this year. The funding for that increase is not available.

To restore full pay parity with England would cost in the region of £100m. The decision to diverge from GB pay rates was taken when the NI Assembly was in operation. The Department has made clear that it has neither the budget nor the authority to overturn previous Ministerial decisions and meet this demand.

The deep health crisis continues.