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The government's proposals for regional assemblies set out in the recently published white paper, Your region, your...
The government's proposals for regional assemblies set out in the recently published white paper, Your region, your choice: revitalising the English regions, have been described by one commentator as a solution looking for a problem.

But assuming there is a problem, the human resource issues that arise will need to be addressed, as the paper begins to acknowledge in chapter nine.

The government, however, appears to be adopting a slightly different approach in two respects. First, in terms of the staff who might transfer under TUPE from central government to the regional assembly. Second, in terms of those who would move from existing county and districts to a new unitary where 'appropriate provision' will be made, raising the prospect of Statutory Transfer Orders.

The reason for the possible difference in treatment is not clear at the moment, though it may simply be that civil servants look at what happened at the

last round of local government reorganisation and say: 'Oh

yes, STOs are the way we move staff from one council to another.'

There are some key differences between this reorganisation and previous rounds as it involves the movement of civil servants and may take place over a long timescale - perhaps even longer than the drawn-out reorganisation of the 1990s. Also, it will almost certainly cover only parts of the country.

Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learned from the last time local government faced upheaval.

Prior to the 1990s round, the received wisdom had been that a staff commission was needed to oversee the process. The performance of the staff commission in England has led many to question whether such a body is helpful. The argument against a commission is now strengthened by the disparate nature of any reorganisation.

A much better way might be for civil servants to look to those local government bodies with personnel expertise - such as the Society of Chief Personnel Officers and the Employers' Organisation - to play a key role in advising on the process. Last time, both organisations became de facto commissions - albeit without teeth - at various points during the process.

Despite arguments about whether STOs are needed, the transfer process should be

much clearer as the principles of TUPE will apply - last time there was some debate over whether they did.

But other issues need early consideration (including the appointments process) especially for senior jobs, the compensation regime and what pay protection arrangements there might be.

One principle local government should insist on at this stage is equity of treatment for civil servants and local government officers affected by the process.

Tim Rothwell

Managing director, GWT Rothwell

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