News Focus

The timetable for introducing an NHS-wide pay system is in danger of 'slipping considerably' because no money was allocated to cover the costs in the current spending review.

Unions were set to be told of the delay during talks on the pay system on Tuesday.

The complex negotiations have already stalled several times since the Agenda For Changedocument was launched in 1999, leading to an overrun of more than a year on the original timetable.

Unison negotiator Paul Marks said: 'The timetable is slipping considerably. The issue is around at what point clearance is given on the total amount of money for the new system. Until That is sorted out, There is only so far we can go. We are in the second year of the [govern - ment's] comprehensive spending review. They're thinking about the next spending review. Clearly this wasn't budgeted for in this round.'

A Department of Health spokesperson confirmed: 'We are due to discuss shortly with employers and staff organisations how to adapt the timetable for negotiations to reflect the timing of the 2002 spending review.'

The costs are estimated at between 3 and 5 per cent of the NHS pay bill which, at around£25bn, including£17-18bn for non-medical staff, means the figure could reach£1.25bn. The current three-year review settlement had been announced in 2000, with the work done in autumn 1999.

But the DoH said this had taken place 'before Agenda for Change could have an impact into it'.

Although the process of looking at a new pay system had begun in 1999, Agenda for Changehad 'started with a blank piece of paper'.

Asked whether this meant that three-year spending plans could cause problems if significant developments had to be funded, the spokesperson said: 'You had better ask the Treasury that.'

A Treasury spokesperson said: 'The reason for having three-year plans is so departments can plan.'

Departments could 'move the money around to pay for any particular costs coming up'.

Mr Marks said Unison would have preferred to be able to finish the negotiations in time for implementation to begin as currently scheduled, in April 2002.

But he added: 'Slowing things down is not the most desirable thing, but it gives you space to make sure You have got things right.'