Byers imposes compromise Best Value package

28 Mar 02
Stephen Byers has intervened to end six months of stalemate in the Best Value review he initiated, imposing his own solution to the two-tier workforce problem.

29 March 2002

The local government secretary this week abandoned hopes that the review group, comprising representatives from local government, the unions and the private sector, would be able to reach a negotiated settlement.

Dissolving the group, he published his own package of measures, which he said would create 'a fair approach which recognised the legitimate interests of all sides'. They will be underpinned by a code of practice, backed up by statutory guidance, and the code will be written into individual contracts.

Byers' measures, set out in a letter to the review group members, pledge to ensure that staff joining after services have been outsourced will enjoy 'fair and reasonable terms and conditions which are, overall, broadly comparable to those of transferred employees'. This will include access to a 'good quality' pension scheme.

The wording of the package combines the language of both unions and employers, echoing the 'fair and reasonable terms' that the CBI was willing to agree to and the 'comparable' terms and conditions that the unions have sought.

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB union, immediately condemned Byers' attempted compromise as a betrayal. He told Public Finance that the package did not offer new staff sufficient protection. 'This is a betrayal of the commitment that the government made to public service workers. Offering only "broadly comparable" terms will not guarantee that terms and conditions and pensions will not be slashed by contractors and sub-contractors,' he said.

Unison was much more upbeat, its head of local government, Malcolm Wing, saying that 'broadly comparable' meant the package offered to new entrants would have to be equal, although not necessarily the same, as that of transferred staff.

'It is not the answer to all the problems but it will provide some real benefits that people delivering public services will enjoy.'

T&G national organiser Jack Dromey echoed this cautious optimism. 'The devil is in the detail, but this looks like a breakthrough.'

The CBI, which represents private contractors, also welcomed the package. It wrote to Byers and Tony Blair in January outlining plans for a code of practice that would commit contractors to offer 'fair and reasonable' conditions to new entrants.

CBI deputy director general John Cridland said ministers were right to go for a code rather than legislation. 'We believe the code could work for both employers and employees, but this will depend on the detailed wording and on effective implementation. Companies must have flexibility,' he said.

The code, and the accompanying statutory guidance, will be drawn up by officials from the local government secretary's department over the next two months. Discussions with the various parties will take place over the same period.


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