Shapps hits back at grandstanding unions over Christmas strikes

Former RMT boss says rail strikes won’t stop Xmas travel

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Business Secretary Grant Shapps criticised “grandstanding” unions for pushing ahead with strikes across the rail network over Christmas. Mr Shapps, who faced criticism for refusing to negotiate with rail unions when he held the transport brief, said that other ministers had engaged in talks but a “whole new set of strikes” had still been announced.

He insisted it is “not true” that “if only we sat down and spoke this would all be over” because the unions are “still striking”.

“The unions seem absolutely intent on causing the maximum disruption to hard-working people in this country. It’s time for them to stop grandstanding and, you know, get this thing settled,” Mr Shapps said.

As well as rail strikes, industrial action is spreading across the public sector, with nurses preparing a walkout while ambulance drivers and paramedics are being balloted.

Mr Shapps dismissed claims the military will be brought in to ease pressures on the NHS caused by any action.

“There aren’t any immediate plans to do that,” he told Sky News.

“And actually the NHS has got some pretty well-versed planning in place for all manner of disruption.

“Of course, ideally, I’d love to see those strikes averted. I don’t think anyone wants to see strikes in our NHS. It harms everybody and is to no one’s advantage.”

It followed reports the Government could use the military aid to the civil authorities protocol (Maca) to keep key services in the NHS running during major walkouts.

Maca was used during the coronavirus pandemic to help struggling health staff with vaccines, testing and the delivery of protective equipment.

No formal request for help has been made by the Department of Health and Social Care to the Ministry of Defence.

A Government spokeswoman said: “We are working with the NHS on a range of options to manage disruption to health and care services during industrial action.

“Hospitals will do everything they can to ensure patients and the public are kept safe, however, planned appointments may need to be cancelled and emergency care prioritised to those in need of urgent care only.”

Mr Shapps said the government could not give inflation-busting pay rises to workers.

“We’ve seen how this works before,” he said.

“You have to go back several decades, but high inflation, if you then feed the high inflation and high settlements, you end up in a spiral where it never ends and that’s what happened in the 1970s.

“We’re very determined not to be in that situation now. It won’t benefit anybody.”

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