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Pensions deal a tribute to co-operation

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Reform of public sector pension schemes has been one of the biggest causes of conflict since the coalition came to power.

There have been strikes - and threats of them - by a wide range of different workers, and agreement between unions and government in some sectors looks a long way off.

Against that backdrop, it was extremely pleasing to see the proposals for a reformed Local Government Pension Scheme so overwhelmingly endorsed by both employers and trade union members.

It was the culmination of months of detailed - and often difficult - negotiations. Nobody involved in the discussions will say it was ever easy. But what made an agreement possible was the determination of all parties to guarantee our pension scheme for the future in an affordable and sustainable way.

This includes changing from a final salary scheme to one based on career average earnings, and an option to pay half contributions for half the pension. Crucially, these reforms will make the scheme much fairer than it was previously.

The agreement would not have been reached if government - after concerted lobbying by employers and unions - had not agreed to treat discussions about reform of our funded pension scheme separately from wider discussions about the reform of public sector pensions.

This decision paved the way for our ultimately successful negotiations. We still have work to do on governance and cost management, but I am confident that given a similar level of support from government, agreement can soon be reached.

As employers, we were obviously disappointed when the local government unions called a one-day strike alongside other public sector unions last November. However, it is to everyone’s credit that they quickly got back around the negotiating table and made progress.

Times are tough, and we all know that there will be more and more difficult decisions about public spending to be made in the future. But I hope the spirit of co-operation that we have witnessed during the pensions discussions shows that conflict is not inevitable.

Earlier this year, local government employers announced that for the third consecutive year there would be a pay freeze. This was a very difficult decision to take, but one we felt was right for council tax payers and the workforce as a whole.

While the financial outlook for local government is bleak, we are keen to discuss with the unions a package of reform of pay and conditions that may enable us to avoid a fourth year of pay freeze in 2013.

Sir Merrick Cockell (Con), chairman, LGA, and leader, Kensington & Chelsea RBC

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