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Tim Rothwell, a personnel consultant, reflects on the struggle to implement single status. ...
Tim Rothwell, a personnel consultant, reflects on the struggle to implement single status.

As the third anniversary of the historic single status agreement for local government approaches, it is perhaps time to take stock. The agreement brought white-collar and blue-collar employees together into one national negotiating group, the National Joint Council for Local Government Services.

The intention of the national agreement, set out in the Green Book, is to provide a standard set of conditions under Part 2, with a national pay spine, but to leave it to councils and their trade unions to negotiate, as appropriate, local changes to other national

provisions under Part 3. Part 4 contains joint advice, including the controversial national job evaluation scheme.

Three years on, councilsÕ progress in achieving the aims of the national negotiators has been patchy. A number have been able to negotiate changes under Part 3, but some have been able to make little progress in this area, finding the need to reach agreement with the trade unions an insurmountable barrier. Some councils have completed the review of their grading structures, a key requirement of the agreement, perhaps using the national job evaluation scheme Ñ which is not mandatory, despite what some union representatives have said at local level. But a significant number of councils, especially those with responsibilities for education and social services, are finding it extremely difficult to put together a pay structure which is acceptable to both managers and employees, reflects the market, meets the challenge of best value and does not break the bank or destroy morale. Given the cost, disruption and time of implementing techniques such as job evaluation, there is a view that, given all the other pressures being put upon local government, it may be better to leave things as they are and run the (perhaps overstated) risk of challenge under equal pay legislation.

There is no single right answer to the problems faced by councils. But there are lessons to be learned. From the national employers perspective there is a need for more help and advice to councils. Some felt that once the single status agreement had been reached in 1997, the national employers thought their job had been done. It was really only just beginning. For the Employers Organisation to retain credibility in this area, it must continue to develop its advisory services, and be prepared, as it increasingly is, to use the talents that lie in other organisations such as the regional employers organisations and the Society of Chief Personnel Officers.

The trade unions have the difficult task of ensuring the messages they send out at a national level are reflected by local representatives and officials. There is much evidence that this has not been the case.

Finally, councils, and especially their personnel specialists, must be prepared to take a more business-needs driven analysis of the options available to them before heading off into areas such as job evaluation without being sure of their overall objectives.

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