All Scottish NHS and care staff to get £500 'thank-you' payment
All NHS and social care staff in Scotland are to be given a one-off “thank-you” payment for their efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
The First Minister said the money was in recognition of their “extraordinary service” over the past eight months.
Those who work part time will get a "proportionate share”, Ms Sturgeon said during an address to the SNP conference today.
"The money will be paid in this financial year and it will be separate from any negotiations about pay for the longer term,” Ms Sturgeon announced.
"There are no strings attached.
“Of course, a payment like this can never come close to expressing our full admiration for those who have cared for us so heroically.
“But to our health and care workers, it is a demonstration of what we collectively owe you - and a heartfelt thank you for the sacrifices you have made.”
She added: “Those who have worked in our hospitals and care homes - caring for the sick and dying, at the sharpest end of the Covid trauma - deserve recognition now.”
The Scottish Government is providing the money from its own resources, but Ms Sturgeon appealed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to take any of the money away in tax.
"Because we don’t control the full tax and benefits system, we don’t have the power to make this payment tax free,” the First Minister said.
“But Prime Minister, you do. So I am asking you this - please allow our health and care heroes to keep every penny of Scotland’s thank you to them.
“Do not take any of it away in tax.”
Responding to the one-off bonus payment, Norman Provan, associate director of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said: “Our members will of course be happy to receive this one-off payment, but this does not address the years of pay restraint or the ongoing demands that nursing staff face on a daily basis.
“What’s needed is a pay deal that truly values the skills, clinical expertise and contribution of nursing staff – not just during the pandemic, but day in, day out, year after year.
"Our safety critical profession needs to be recognised and meaningfully supported. This is why we are continuing to campaign for a 12.5 per cent increase for pay in 2021/22.”
The pro-rata £500 bonus scheme will apply to all NHS staff employed since March 17. This includes those who have retired, were on temporary contracts or have left their employment since that eligibility date.
The SNP leader said the Covid pandemic had intensified the case for independence, contrasting her own Government's handling of the crisis with Westminster.
"The Scottish Government hasn’t got everything right - far from it," she said.
"But I doubt there are many people in Scotland who would have wanted Westminster to be more in charge of our pandemic response.
"In the depth of crisis, we have looked to and trusted our own government and Parliament to steer us through."
Independence can be a "unifying" force as Scots come together to help rebuild in the aftermath of the pandemic, she added, with next year's Scottish Parliament election poised to be a defacto vote on the right to hold another vote on leaving the UK.
"Next May we will ask you, the people of Scotland, to put your trust in us to continue that task of building a better country,” the First Minister said.
"I will ask you to judge us on our record and endorse our plans for the future.
"And in that election, I will seek your authority - no-one else’s - for a legal independence referendum to be held in the early part of the new Parliament. And then, collectively, we can answer those fundamental questions I have posed today.
"Who is best placed to lead Scotland’s recovery and build a better future? Westminster governments we don’t vote for?
“Or independent Scottish Governments - of whatever party - chosen by us and with Scotland’s best interests at heart?
“As we look ahead, we should have every confidence in what is possible if we do take our future into our own hands.”
The SNP leader accused Boris Johnson of seeking to "fundamentally undermine" the Scottish Parliament through the Brexit process”.
"Are we prepared for our Scottish Parliament to be undermined and dragged down by Westminster?" she said. “Or will we decide to make our Scottish Parliament independent?"
She went on: "If we want to make sure the country we rebuild is the one we want it to be, with kindness, compassion, fairness, equality and enterprise at its heart, and not one built in the image of Boris Johnson and his band of Brexiteers, we must work to the right plan."
Ms Sturgeon has announced a £100 million fund for people struggling over the winter. Every family with children in receipt of free school meals will receive a cash grant of £100 to spend on what they wish.
Support will also be available to the homeless, funding an initiative to teach digital skills to the elderly and help people pay their fuel bills.
But the focus on the constitution came under fire from political opponents at the time of a pandemic.
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The First Minister has put independence first.
“Everything else that needs to be done in Scotland, the mammoth task of recovery in front of us, all of that will have to wait for years in the queue behind another referendum.”
Tory leader Douglas Ross said the funding announcements came from UK Government spending.
He said: "Businesses and workers will be left wondering why they held off until SNP conference to finally get the money out the door on announcements that should have been made weeks ago.
“The rank hypocrisy from the First Minister on all fronts was galling. She now bends the truth on a daily basis.”