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STAFF COMMISSION TO CONFRONT HIRING ROW

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The Staff Commission is to examine the way staff are hired by continuing authorities to try to ensure there is no d...
The Staff Commission is to examine the way staff are hired by continuing authorities to try to ensure there is no discrimination against people coming from abolished councils. The move follows new guidance this week from the DoE allowing the Staff Commission to tackle the widespread concerns on recruitment policy.

Local authority associations and unions have been alarmed at the potential for discrimination since the DoE announced in August that unitary authorities based largely on the boundaries of an existing council would not have shadow authorities. They argued the continuing authorities were likely to favour their own staff.

Under the new guidelines the DoE said it expected continuing authorities would create new posts for top jobs where new responsibilities are being taken on. New heads of paid service and other senior management posts would then be subject to either open competition or prior consideration of existing staff in the continuing or outgoing councils.

'Within the constraints of employment legislation, the additional guidance provides as level a playing field as can be achieved for staff of outgoing authorities compared with those of the continuing authorities', said junior environment minister Tony Baldry. The Local Government Management Board Director of Negotiations Charles Nolda said the guidance 'made the best of a bad job'.

'It is probably the best the DoE can do given the statutory constraint. But our problem is that the statutory constraint should not be there', said Mr Nolda. 'Not having a shadow authority tilts the playing field so badly that there is a real risk the basic assumption behind reorganisation - that it will give the opportunity to look at things on a fresh start basis -- will be prejudiced'. Councils in the Isle of Wight do not think the guidance has resolved the clash between the employment rights of incumbent staff in continuing authorities and the responsibility to deal fairly with staff in the councils being abolished. Medina BC Personnel Manager Alan Greaves said the guidance offered little comfort for staff in the Isle of Wight's two boroughs.

'If the successor authority decides it will create new posts or reorganise jobs there will be a competitive situation. No-one has any problems with that. But in the Isle of Wight the county council sees no reason by and large to reorganise', said Mr Greaves. 'Take areas of commonality like accountancy or committee services - our staff have no right to compete for these jobs. The guidance is disappointing because it does not create any statutory or legal mechanism by which we can get over existing employment law obstacles'.

Mr Greaves envisaged a number of county posts would continue unaltered in a unitary authority. If an incumbent was dismissed and someone else given the job the individual would have a good case for an unfair dismissal challenge. Isle of Wight CC Personnel Officer David Ball said the county did not expect many posts to change significantly with the takeover of borough services. 'The problem is how to define significant.

The boroughs' £4 million combined budgets will be joined to the existing £100m budget. Is that significant'? The case is more debatable in areas where borough services will be merged with county services, such as housing with social services or leisure with education, he said.

The guidance draws attention to clauses in the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 dealing with dismissing staff. They say an employer can only dismiss staff who have transferred if there is an economic, technical or organisational reason. 'There may be a mechanism within that to make for fair selection of staff for redundancy across all authorities involved', said Mr Greaves.

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