Pickles' letter to unions puts pensions deal at risk

Government backtracks after claims Communities Secretary tried to impose last-minute conditions

Ministers yesterday hailed a public sector pensions settlement that would last for "a generation" and head off the threat of further mass strikes, despite a last-minute hitch that threatened to undermine the deal.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, said "headline agreements" had been reached with the majority of unions representing public sector workers in the NHS, education, local government and civil service.

The proposals will now be put to individual union executives and members in the New Year, while ministers intend to draw up legislation to enact the new schemes by the spring.

But in a sign of how fragile the agreement is, the Government had to withdraw a letter from the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to unions representing local government workers after the GMB and Unite accused him of laying down "new conditions" that could be a "deal-breaker".

Faced with the prospect of the pensions deal unravelling before it had even been formally announced, Mr Pickles was instructed to withdraw the letter and issue a replacement.

"It is not a position that has been agreed," said Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander.

But by early last night the new letter had still not been released, causing local government unions to suspend their agreement and seek an "urgent meeting with Government to establish an agreed way forward".

Mr Pickles' department later issued a statement saying it was in talks "to resolve any misunderstanding and reassure them [the unions] that our intentions have not changed."

In the longer term, the Government is also concerned the plans could be rejected when scrutinised by individual union executives.

One of the main civil service unions, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, has already said it will reject the offer while the National Union of Teachers also suggested it would have considerable difficulty recommending it to members.

It is likely to be late January before a clear picture emerges of which unions will agree to the deal.

However, the prospect of another mass walkout of public sector workers has receded significantly.

"We've moved to a stage where we are actively consulting on these proposals rather than actively considering further industrial action," said one senior union source.

"Has a deal been done yet? No. Is a deal now more likely? Yes."

Mr Alexander told MPs that changes to pensions delivered the Government's key objectives of amending them to a career average arrangement, making public sector staff work longer before they receive a pension and paying higher contributions.

But staff less than 10 years away from retirement will face no change to their pensions and those earning less than £26,000 will be protected from a contributions rise next year.

Also included is a pledge to consult over the impact of these changes on staff in the emergency services as well as a commitment to allow those who leave the public sector to retain their right to stay in the pension scheme.

"These agreements deliver the Government's key objectives in full and do so with no new money since our November offer," Mr Alexander said.

"These reforms will save the taxpayer tens of billions of pounds over the next few decades and significantly improve the long-term fiscal sustainability of this country."

But the PCS said it was taking legal advice over being "excluded" from the civil service talks.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam