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Ministers hint at pensions shift

The BMA will meet Scottish health and well-being secretary Nicola Sturgeon for talks about pension reform this week, amid suggestions of a ‘different approach’.

BMA Scottish council chair Brian Keighley welcomed an indication that the Scottish government might offer ‘something different’, but was sceptical about what might be on offer, saying it would make no difference to the plans for a ballot on industrial action.

He added that doctors leaders had not seen any substantial proposals or any clear indication from the Scottish government that it planned to offer a better pensions deal, and they would continue to communicate to the Scottish and UK governments the anger that most doctors felt about pension changes.

Last week it emerged that Ms Sturgeon had asked if she could attend the March 28 meeting of the STAC (Scottish Terms and Conditions Committee) — a body that negotiates for NHS Scotland staff on issues not covered by separate collective bargaining arrangements — to discuss pension proposals.

'Different approach'
In addition, a Scottish government spokesperson said that Scotland would be taking a ‘different approach’, and that a new NHS scheme for Scotland would ‘reflect the unique nature of the workforce’.

A letter to the joint STAC chairs sent by Scottish government director for health workforce and performance John Connaghan says uncertainty over future public sector pension deals is ‘not helpful and has gone on for too long’.

He writes: ‘The Scottish government has been as much in the dark about the twists and turns of UK government ministers’ thinking and policy as other stakeholders. This has been as frustrating for Scottish ministers as it has been for everyone else.’

The letter adds that Ms Sturgeon would attend the March 28 meeting ‘in order to set the scene and provide the context, tone and parameters’ of Scottish pension scheme negotiations.

BMA doubts
However, Dr Keighley greeted the developments with caution, pointing out that doctors and their public sector colleagues would still see their pension contributions rise unfairly from April.

He said: ‘While we are pleased that the Scottish government has at last invited the BMA, along with other trade unions, to meet to discuss the UK government’s proposals to reform the NHS pension scheme, we have heard nothing at this stage to justify raising our members’ expectations of a better offer in Scotland. 

‘We need to see the detail of any proposals before commenting further.’

A Scottish government spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to public sector pensions which are affordable, sustainable and fair. We are taking a different approach, and the NHS scheme in Scotland will reflect the unique nature of the workforce. We have begun the process of considering the long-term reform of public sector pension schemes in Scotland, to apply from April 2015.’

The BMA last week postponed its series of pension roadshows across the UK until further notice as it continues its detailed work on planning for a ballot on industrial action. 

A BMA statement says: ‘Planning for the first industrial action by doctors in almost 40 years is extremely challenging. Given our commitment to patient safety and the legislative minefield that we have to navigate, it is vital that the plans for action we will be asking members to take are as robust as possible before they are shared.’