16 January 2004
Negotiations over local government's long-running London weighting quarrel turned sour this week after the capital's council leaders walked out of the latest meeting and suspended the body set up to resolve disputes.
The Association of London Government confirmed that council employers had suspended 'indefinitely' the 80-year-old Greater London Provincial Council, the joint negotiating body that co-ordinates pay discussions between employers and the trade unions, after refusing the unions' offer of binding arbitration at Acas.
Union leaders said they were 'astonished' at the move and claimed London's employers 'do not want to see a resolution' of the two-year dispute over the cost-of-living allowance paid to staff working in the capital's boroughs.
But the ALG claimed it was the unions that had let talks break down by refusing to 'seriously consider' their offer of voluntary conciliation. In a statement, it said: 'Employers are not in a position to go into binding arbitration on a claim that is not valid.'
Unions in the capital have already held a series of strikes over the issue and sources told Public Finance that more could now follow.
Employers said the unions' 'unacceptable' claim for £4,000 for each worker would lead to a £90 rise in council tax and 11,000 job cuts in London.
Unison, the capital's biggest public service union, said workers would now take their claim to the National Joint Council – but the Employers' Organisation, which represents councils at national level, could not confirm that they would negotiate on the issue.
David Eggmore, chair of Unison's London committee, said: 'It is astonishing that, after more than two years of a dispute, London's council leaders do not want to see a resolution.
'By refusing binding arbitration, council leaders have shown that they have no confidence in their own position. They are obviously worried that Acas will not view their stance favourably.'
Tommy Douras, head of the T&G union's service sector, said: 'It shows the arrogance of the current generation of council leaders that they think they can unilaterally suspend the GLPC – they can't.'
An ALG spokeswoman responded: 'They can and they have. It was always a voluntary arrangement.'