YOU don’t have to look too carefully to still see the signs. Around County Durham you can still see the hand painted posters, the makeshift cards stuck on houses and street signs which read: “Thank you NHS”.

Many of these signs now look slightly worse for wear, having endured some of the extreme weather of the past months, but they remain a reminder of the outpouring of thanks recognising the sacrifice of those who daily put themselves on the front line, whose leave was cancelled, who worked long dangerous shifts, often ill equipped with the most basic protection, fulfilling their duty to care.

Almost a year on, the Government has proposed a real terms pay cut for those in the NHS, with the proposal of a one per cent pay rise, a derisory figure likely to be outstripped by the living costs of inflation.

In its defence, the Government employs two arguments. First, it says that NHS workers should be grateful. Other public servants are being treated worse, it argues, with pay freezes which will mean larger real term paycuts for police officers, teachers and other frontline workers.

The second Government argument is to employ the contrast with the private sector and to suggest that at least those in the NHS have a job – they should be grateful to be employed at all.

What is most dispiriting about this whole affair is not simply the cold hearted ingratitude of the Government with its backtracking on previously promised pay rises and the betrayal of the memory of those nurses and doctors who have lost their lives to Covid, as utterly depressing that is.

Rather it is the lost opportunity for a new way of being that the Government’s proposals represent.

The journey out of the pandemic and the lockdown is an opportunity to do things differently and not to return to how things used to be. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has written how after the Second World War, Britain emerged from six years of privation, uncertainty and mortal danger with a hope not just to return to a pre-war settlement but with a desire for a new way of being as a country.

In the years that followed, the country changed dramatically with the welfare state, the education act and the NHS ensuring the country had become a better place for the sick, the poor, the elderly and children.

As a nation, we have an opportunity to build back better and not to simply return to how things used to be. A post-pandemic vision that underlines the greatness of Britain could be rooted in the recognition of rewarding care and duty, of acknowledging sacrifice and investing in the care which we all continue to need in the years to come.

The best leadership is often characterised by hard choices made in pursuit of an inspired vision. By contrast the Government’s plan for the nurses’ pay is symptomatic of flawed and failing leadership, characterised by bad decisions and a blinkered view.

L Reverend Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas’ Church, in Durham