Granada Debate: Government accused of playing 'politics with people' over failure to stop strikes

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The Government has been accused of "playing politics with the people of this country" over its reluctance to get round the table with unions - especially those working in the NHS.

Paula Barker, the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, said the current crisis facing the NHS would be exacerbated by the strike action, but a failure in funding and social care had led to the position.

"I think that the Tory government are playing politics with the people of this country," she said.

"The health secretary could get around the table any time he wants.

"The hardworking staff of the NHS do not want to be taking strike action, they take that really, really seriously, they take what they do very, very seriously, they will be losing money, let's not forget that.

"So nobody wants to see these strikes, but they have been decimated over the past 12 years and they are also suffering.

"We hear from the Conservative government about the hardworking people of this country, but what they don't understand is that people who are taking industrial action are also hardworking people of this country who pay their taxes."

The Labour MP made the comments as part of ITV Granada Reports monthly political programme, Granada Debate.

She was joined by Conservative MP for Blackpool South Scott Benton, who said he believed it was Labour 'playing politics' with the issue, not the Conservatives.

Drawing attention to Wales, where Labour run the health services, he accused it of being "an absolute basket case" and the backlogs were far greater than in England.

He added: "We see NHS workers, ambulance workers striking in Wales let's not forget, and I'm afraid the 17% pay demands from the Royal College of Nurses just are not affordable.

"But this government has a good record to tell on public sector pay, that's why nurses are receiving four, 5% pay increase this year, they received 3% as an increase last year, so over £1,400 pay increase we helped deliver will help them with the cost of living, as well as those other measures to help people with energy prices at home."

He added that the Labour party had "refused to offer what the unions have demanded".

There are calls to strip Avanti of its contract Credit: PA

Speaking about the spate of cancellations and delayed trains which have been seen across the North West rail network both said they were "long-suffering passengers".

Paula said: "I'd like to say I'm hopeful it will get sorted out.

"The staff on the trains are absolutely fantastic, the service from Avanti is absolutely shocking.

"This is a service that is absolutely shambolic and a Tory government that extended the contract until April of next year."

Broadly agreeing with Ms Barker, the MP for Blackpool South said he thought more could be done.

He said: "The government are trying to adhere and make sure the Government abide by their service level agreement, I think there is more we need to do to push them to make sure they are fair to customers.

"Obviously this situation hasn't been helped, it's been exacerbated by the existing strike action as well, so I suspect once that has been concluded we will start to see some of the problems ease."

He added: "On a day-to-day basis we have to do better on Avanti West Coast."

In a statement Avanti apologised for the service and said their sole focus was returning to a "more resilient operation".

It said: “We know in recent months our customers have not been getting the service they deserve.

"We are sorry for the enormous amount of frustration and inconvenience this has caused and are grateful for the patience our passengers have shown.

“Over the last few months, our sole focus has been to do everything we can to return to a more resilient operation which delivers more services for our customers and communities. Crucially, the new timetable is based on a robust and sustainable roster for our people without reliance on overtime, and has been achieved by working with our people and the unions. It provides a better working pattern for staff and our customers will benefit from more trains, greater connectivity and tickets on sale much earlier.”

2022 saw three prime ministers, four chancellors, the end of Covid restrictions and the start of what could be another global recession.

Mr Benton said he believed Boris Johnson had done a "brilliant" job and says Rishi Sunak now needs to "steady the ship", with huge challenges ahead in 2023.

Ms Barker said Kier Starmer had done "really well", despite polling, adding that they do not matter, and instead insisting "what we will deliver for the people of this country" was the most important.

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