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It’s time to move on

For the past eight months or more the people of Bedfordshire have been witness to the interesting, but ultimately unedifying, spectacle of a council war (‘Bedfordshire vows to fight on to the end’, LGC, 13 March).

I do not want to stir the pot again because with the final decision on unitary now made, we have the opportunity to do what all of the councils pledged; that whatever the government’s decision we would all work together to implement it.

Sadly, that pledge did not outlast the announcement of the ‘minded to’ decision, but anybody who has talked to our taxpayers and voters will be in no doubt that it was what they wanted. Now we have a second chance to redeem the image of local government.

Disappointment for some was inevitable, but let us show we can be grown up and work together for Bedfordshire.

Frank Branston (ind)

Elected mayor of Bedford

No black clouds

Your analysis (‘Summer of discontent looms on pay’, LGC, 6 March) covered the very real difficulties being experienced across the country for those councils and trade unions involved in trying to implement single-status agreements.

Although Darlington BC was not specifically referred to in the text, it was included in the accompanying ‘equal pay updates’ illustration against a black cloud and lightning symbol with the comment: “Darlington BC Compensation deal has been ruled out.”

To say management and trade union colleagues were dismayed is an understatement, having successfully implemented single status in 2006 as part of a collective agreement with the relevant National Joint Council unions.

In implementing single status across the board for all NJC grades, Darlington was one of the first authorities to reach an agreement, which also included part-three conditions. While the difficulty in achieving this should not be underestimated, we did at the end of the day reach a successful outcome by agreement and an affirmative ballot.

The agreement in Darlington was a generous one, adding six percent to the authority’s pay bill as well as improving terms and conditions for many staff.

Across the country, and particularly in the northern region, litigation on equal pay has been with us for a number of years and Darlington, like other councils, has implemented various settlements over the years to resolve the historic issues on pay which have been prevalent throughout local government.

Again, like most authorities, we do have equal pay claims proceeding through the tribunal system. These are relatively small in number and we would not delude ourselves in believing we are out of the woods we are, however, very positive about progress on the equal pay front and particularly so in relation to the implementation of our agreement in 2006.

Lesley Blundell

Head of human resource management, Darlington BC

Negotiation is the way

Your article (‘Summer of discontent looms on pay’, LGC, 6 March) is not an accurate account, in our view, of where unions stand in terms of equal pay. Industrial action is only one part of Unison’s strategy to achieve equal pay for our women members.

Collective bargaining and negotiation is the best way to deliver equal pay to all workers. That is not to say that we will shy away from industrial action where necessary, as was the case in Birmingham. Just as we will take legal claims where a council refuses to make a reasonable offer.

The comments made by anonymous sources and in the unattributed quotes do not reflect the democratic decisions taken by the union.

Unison and the union’s National Executive Council are united both on pay and on our equal pay strategy. As a member-led union, these negotiations are driven by elected committees and not by diktat. Our general secretary, Dave Prentis, reports to every NEC meeting and enjoys the overwhelming support of members.

Finally, to suggest that I regard “single-status wrangling as just some of the kindling in a bigger tinderbox” is the author’s own view, not mine. Establishing equal pay for women is a key priority for Unison not just an add-on to a wider campaign.

Heather Wakefield

Head of local government, Unison

RIEPs are welcome

In what was otherwise an excellent edition (LGC, 13 March), it was a shame that your efficiency special was undermined by the claim that the Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnerships (RIEPs) are being met with “widespread disapproval” by councils.

Your survey found that the majority of respondents want the efficiency agenda driven at the local or sub-regional level. That’s exactly the principle on which the RIEPs are founded.

The RIEPs are led by councils and their partners and represent a focused approach to driving improvement, innovation and efficiency in local government. Their work programmes are based on and reflect the shared needs and priorities of councils. It isn’t about the imposition of a government-led agenda.

Of course, it is still early days in the life of the RIEPs and we’ve got a lot of work to do to deliver on a challenging agenda. But I, my colleagues on the task group, and the members who lead the RIEPs, are determined to ensure that councils and their partners are supported in their quest to achieve excellent local area agreement outcomes and a demanding efficiency target.

Joyce Redfearn

Chair, Chief Executives’ Task Group

Meeting local needs

The news that up to 50 local authorities may follow Essex CC in looking to take over post offices scheduled for closure (‘Post office plans’, LGC, 13 March) is a positive step forward when it comes to providing citizen-centric services locally.

Importantly, it demonstrates that local government in the 21st Century needs to be flexible and adaptable to meet the rapidly changing needs of its citizens, rather than maintaining the status quo. The local council remit is changing and it needs to put in place the process, people and robust networks to ensure that resources are allocated where they are most needed rather than where they are historically located.

Introducing robust networks enables councils to adopt a more flexible approach to service delivery. This can be achieved by bringing services closer to the citizen, as in the case of Essex, or by enabling citizens to reach staff irrespective of location, ensuring a faster response.

By making this cultural shift, local government will be able to demonstrate its importance to citizens in a changing world.

John Maund

Public sector manager, south-east, ntl:Telewest Business

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