Union leaders dismiss chances of last-minute talks being able to avert ambulance strike – UK politics live

Key events

Labour has renewed its call for the government to open talks with the health unions on pay. Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow work and pensions secretary, told Times Radio this morning:

I think everybody is deeply concerned about NHS staff on strike and the impact that will have on patient care. That is why we want these strikes averted.

That is why it is incumbent upon ministers to actually engage now in a meaningful negotiation in order to avoid these strikes.

The buck stops with Rishi Sunak and his government. They’re the ones who can stop these strikes by engaging in a meaningful negotiation about what is a fair settlement for NHS staff.

NHS faces ‘incredibly challenging and disrupted week’ because of strikes, says health leader

Negotiations between ambulance service leaders and unions are still continuing over exactly what services will be maintained during Wednesday’s strike in England and Wales, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, told BBC Breakfast this morning.

NHS Providers represents NHS trusts, and Cordery said talks were taking place at national level and local level.

Asked if people would have to make their own way to hospital, she replied:

If someone has a life and limb emergency, they should call 999. And if it’s not that kind of emergency, they will be told to seek different advice.

If they think they’ve got the kind of emergency where they would usually call 111, then they should do that, or they should consult a GP or pharmacist. They must use the usual routes available to them and take that advice. There may well be alternative advice available to them that wouldn’t ordinarily be the case.

So perhaps they will be advised to get themselves to hospital, but they should wait to seek that medical advice.

Cordery also said it would be an “incredibly challenging and disrupted week” for the NHS because there was another strike by nurses too. She told BBC Breakfast:

This is going to be an incredibly challenging and disrupted week, not only because we have the ambulance service coming out on strike across nearly every region, but also because we’ve got these sequential strikes.

So we’ve got nurses’ industrial action on Tuesday, and then ambulance services on Wednesday, and I think one will impact the other.

Sunak arrives in Latvia for summit with fellow leaders from JEF military partnership

Rishi Sunak has touched down in the Latvian capital, where he is meeting northern European allies to discuss countering Russian aggression, PA Media reports. PA says:

The prime minister landed in snowy Riga at 11.20 am local time, stepping out of the plane into a gusty -4C.

He will urge fellow leaders of the Joint Expeditionary Force [JEF] to stand firm in their support for Ukraine, after announcing a major new artillery package for the war-torn nation.

He will continue his whistlestop tour by flying to Estonia later on Monday, where he will meet British troops and sign a new technology partnership.

Here is the No 10 news release about the visit. And here is my colleague Jessica Elgot’s overnight preview story.

Rishi Sunak getting off his plane at Riga international airport in Latvia this morning. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Good morning. We’re in the final week before Christmas, and the strikes affecting public services are set to get even more serious. Last week’s strike by the Royal College of Nursing was unprecedented, because the RCN had never called a strike before, but ministers fear that a strike by ambulance staff in England and Wales on Wednesday could be even more serious because of the impact it will have on patients needing emergency care.

As Jessica Elgot and Andrew Gregory report in their overnight story, Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has signalled that he is open to further talks in the hope of averting this week’s strike.

But this morning the leaders of Britain’s two biggest unions, Unison and Unite, which represent ambulance staff, have played down the prospect of any meaningful talks happening, saying the government’s refusal to discuss pay is making discussion pointless.

In an interview with the Daily Mirror, Sharon Graham, the Unite general secretary, said it was Barclay himself who was holding the country to ransom. She said:

Look at Scotland. The government there came back to the negotiating table, made a new offer and the strikes were cancelled. Yet in England they refuse to negotiate a new deal with the unions or go back to the pay review body.

It’s Steve Barclay who is holding the country to ransom. He will have to carry the can if patients suffer because he thinks this is his Thatcher moment.

And on the Today programme this morning Christina McAnea, the Unison general secretary, said ministers were being impossible. She said:

The government has been completely intransigent here. We’ve been calling on them for weeks and weeks to talk to us about this, to actually sit down and have a proper discussion before we try and resolve this dispute, and they have adamantly refused to do that.

I don’t know how much stronger myself, or Pat Cullen [the RCN general secretary] or Gary Smith of the GMB [need to be] – all of us are saying the same thing, we are prepared to talk to you, but they will not talk to us about the elephant in the room, which is pay.

McAnea said she last met Barclay herself five weeks ago, for about 15 minutes. She said there was “no trust left” between unions and the government and that, for Wednesday’s ambulance strike to be called off, ministers would have to promise to open negotiations on pay. She said:

It has be a very firm commitment. There is no trust left between us and the government. They would have to come up with something more that was more than just ‘Let’s talk about this’ for us to call off the strike on Wednesday.

Of course, the ambulance strike is not the only public service strike coming this week. Here is the advent calendar of strikes for this month.

Here is the agenda for the day.

10.30am: The high court delivers judgments in legal challenges to the government’s Rwanda deportation policy.

Morning: Rishi Sunak arrives in Riga, Latvia, for a meeting of leaders of the Joint Expeditionary Force, the UK-led defence group mostly made up of Nordic and Baltic countries. Later he will go to Estonia to meet British troops stationed there.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

2.30pm: Suella Braverman, the home secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

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