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Far from finished eight years in...
Far from finished eight years in

By Jennifer Taylor

Only a third of councils have completed the first step of single status, with cost the chief obstacle.

An Employers' Organisation survey reveals just 32% of councils have completed local pay reviews, according to a survey of 180 councils.

Cost was the main barrier to successful pay and grading reviews, with 85% of councils identifying pay bill costs and 55% citing implementation costs as the main problem.

Lack of trade union enthusiasm was ranked the lowest impediment to success.

Unison's latest figures, which include 90% of councils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, found 12% still have no plan to review pay and grading.Twenty-two percent are still in the preparation stage.

The single status agreement dates back to 1997. The timetable for completion, set out in the 2004 pay agreement, said all job evaluation was to be completed by March 2006 and implemented by April 2007.

Councils were supposed to have agreed a timetable and action plan for pay and grading by 1 June, but Unison figures show less than two thirds have succeeded.

Unison's head of local government Heather Wakefield said the lack progress was 'frustrating' but 'not surprising'.

'We know some councils are saying they are going to find it even harder now because they have to find Gershon efficiencies.'

Jan Parkinson, Gateshead Council's strategic director for human resources and president of the Society of Personnel Officers in Government Services, said when single status was brought in there was an assumption it would be cost neutral, but added that assumption was 'rather fanciful'.

'I don't think there are any examples of where new pay structures are put in that are cost neutral,' she said.

Mike Walker, employers' secretary to the National Joint Council for Local Government Services, said using efficiency savings to meet the costs of implementing pay reviews was 'an option we expect people to look at'.

He added: 'I don't think anybody has pretended pay reviews are cost neutral.'

The joint secretaries will be monitoring progress on the 1 June target later this year.

Comment - agreement tide must turn

The Employers' Organisation figures reveal that a shocking eight years on, the single status agreement is far from complete.

Initially, the difficulty presented by the requirement for single status to be cost neutral discouraged many councils from tackling it - but the context has changed.

The threat of equal pay claims where single status agreements have yet to be signed has forced councils to press on with the reforms.

However, while the notion of cost neutrality has been sensibly forgotten, cost pressure has arisen from another source in the form of Gershon targets.

Efficiency may be able to cover some of the cost but there is still the risk of cuts to staff and services - unless central government extended the same generosity to local government as it has to the NHS on Agenda for Change, by funding modernisation and footing the bill for single status.

Councils can no longer duck single status. But there could be a more realistic - and more equal - level of support from the centre for an exceptionally difficult reform.

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