Thursday, 16th March, 2023

[Day 1095]

Today was a day to which we had been looking forward for some time because we were scheduled to visit our close friends in South Oxfordshire for a lunch time appointment. We picked up our newspaper and then made steady progress along the M40 and A34 towards the point at which we pick up the road tht runs close by our friends. But then I missed the ring road link around Oxford which always a little tricky to negotiate. So then we had to have recourse to our SatNav and finished off with a detour around Dicott until the SatNav route coincided with one that we already knew. So we were not delayed by much either in terms of miles driven or time elapsed but only our coffee break was a little delayed and was taken only a few miles short of our destination. Our friends were as friendly and welcoming as always and we had a wonderful meal of chicken. But the thing which is always interesting to observe is that friends live in an area where some red kites are often to be seen. They have quite a large conservatory built onto their farm house and as well as being delightfully restful, it is always possible to observe the local wildlife. So after each meal, the left over bones are left out on a bird-table and the sharp eyed red kites note this and then swoop down with unerring precision to avail themselves of the bones with hardly a pause in their trajectory. After a wonderful lunch and chat, it was reluctantly time for us to start our journey home but our friends very kindly donated to us a couple of lanyards for which we will now have a use. In the course of our post-prandial chat, it emerged that our friend had written a biography of his own father and I was lent a loan copy of the book. This I am sure I will find fascinating because I already know a fair bit about my friend’s interesting life but his father was (literally) a ‘closed book’ until now. Whilst on the subject of artificial intelliegence, our friend demonstrated the use of his Google smart speaker. I have never used one of these before but my friend let me have a go. I asked for the salient features of Wittgenstein’s philosophy only be told that, regretfully, the system could not understand my question. The journey home was uneventful and fairly straightforward apart from the fact that half way through the journey, the rains started and this intensified as we proceeded northwards. We arrived in Bromsgrove almost on the dot of 6.00pm and it was really raining hard when we got home. Nonetheless, our arrival home was greeted by one bedraggled Miggles (neighbourhood cat who has adopted us) and who no doubt thought that a lttle titbit might be forthcoming.

As we drove home, we heard the news on the BBC4 PM programme that a settlement had been reached with the health service unions. The offer consists of a one-off payment of 2% of their salary plus a COVID recovery bonus of 4% for the current financial year 2022/23, and a 5% pay increase for 2023/24. It will apply to key NHS workers including nurses and paramedics but not junior doctors, who are involved in a separate dispute over pay and conditions. From the government point of view,framing the offer of a one-off payment has the advantage of ths sum not being consolidated into the worker’s basic pensionable pay. It also means that it is possible to disguise what has actually been paid in settlement of this year and therefore allows the government a certain degree of face saving. But tonight, on the Channel 4 news, we learnt that a settlement had been agreed between the Department of Health (as quasi-employers) and the unions. On the other hand, it has emerged that despite the fact that HM Treasury was present throughout the negotiations, they have not agreed to fund the £2.5 million that this will cost. There is some talk that the NHS itself might be asked to cough up some of the money (even though it cannot be afforded) but it is also possible that the Treasury may be able to fund some of the bill from ‘departmental underspends’ at the end of the current financial year. This does rather sound like the Treasury equivalent of finding some money that has fallen down the back of the sofa but the fact that a settlement has been agreed at all cannot be unrelated to the fact that we had a national budget yesterday. Sky News reports that the walkouts in the NHS have also created a very specific political problem for the prime minister who has made reducing waiting lists one of his five key pledges – a target he will not be able to hit whilst workers are on the picket line. So, it is no surprise that this is the area that has been the focus of the most intense negotiations. There is also the prospect that a similar deal can be negotiated with other groups of workers such as teachers and, in the fullness of time, striking junior hospital doctors who are just ending their three day strike the impact of which must have been traumatic.