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One size does not fit all when it comes to pay, which is why so much effort has been put into decentralising public...
One size does not fit all when it comes to pay, which is why so much effort has been put into decentralising public sector pay systems over recent years.

While there is an argument that national negotiation is no longer appropriate, it is clear that for most councils some kind of nationally negotiated framework is, on balance, preferable to purely local arrangements. We therefore need to combine the strengths of a national framework with the flexibility of local control over pay rates for specific jobs.

When the existing national agreement was drawn up in 1997, there was flexibility for local parties to negotiate local variations to a number of conditions of service issues. We hoped that councils would be able to agree local variations, but in fact progress has been slow.

Employers tend to blame union intransigence; unions tend to blame councils for wanting to dismantle long-established and hard-won conditions of service. Deadlock ensues, while existing pay inequities continue; sometimes with the tacit acceptance of the status quo by a workforce that is reluctant to see traditional pay differentials between jobs disturbed.

The 1997 diagnosis by the employers was right - existing pay structures and terms and conditions underpin a culture which in many ways remains averse to change. The treatment was labelled 'local flexibility' but too many HR managers think that the label did not match the content.

The Pay Commission gives us an opportunity to review the treatment and to make the case for a new approach. For instance, is now the time for part three of the Green book to wither on the vine? Why can there not be a more pragmatic approach to job evaluation, with less dogmatism about which scheme to use and procedural minutiae, and more focus on achieving the desired outcome of grading structures which are free of gender bias?

These are all valid national questions, but in the end local employers have a better chance of improving service delivery than the national employers. Local fle xibility will enable local employers to respond better to their labour market conditions and allow managers to change the way that work is done to deliver improvement. This approach, coupled with a national focus on imaginative job design and the provision of training routes out of lower-paid employment, is the way to modernise pay in local government.

Charles Nolda

Executive director, Employers' Organisation

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