Most union leaders do not have "the appetite" for sustained strike action which will damage members' livelihoods, the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said last night.
At The Independent's fringe meeting, Mr Maude, who is leading government negotiations with unions over pension reform, suggested that a deal to avert strike action remained possible. Plans for a one-day walkout on 30 November have been announced by 14 public-sector unions.
"There is an urgent need for a proper settlement on public-sector pensions for a generation," he said. "We need to get this right and there is a big prize for the unions to do this deal.
"There is a range among the unions. One or two are politically motivated. The PCS – the biggest civil service – has a leadership which is very, very hard left. I would not hold out much hope that union is going to agree to anything. It hasn't so far."
But he claimed the unions were divided. "I think most union leaders and members do not have an appetite for sustained industrial action which would damage their members' livelihood and for which there will be very little public sympathy."
In a discussion with the Independent columnist Steve Richards, Mr Maude admitted that the Government sometimes struggled to get its message across to the public. "We tend to think about the communication afterwards rather than before. I know I do that. You are eager to get on with things and it's difficult driving through reform and you think about the communication afterwards."
He said this was particularly true of NHS reform: "Maybe we underestimated the sensitivity to any idea of reorganisation of the health service."
Mr Maude said the Government was building on the work of the Blair government – and incorporating the ideas of the "Orange book Liberal Democrats" – in breaking up monolithic state institutions.
Earlier Mr Maude called the number of taxpayer-paid union officials in the civil service "way out of control". He said union officials cost £30m in the Civil Service and that consultations would be held with the unions with a view to reducing that number.
"I think people will be surprised to learn that there are 150 civil servants who are on the public payroll, paid for by the taxpayer, but who are actually full-time trade union officials."