Friday, April 13, 2012

Eric Pickles ate my pension?

As a local government worker in London I am looking forward to receiving my ballot paper in the elections for the Service Group Executive (SGE) so that I can vote for Marshajane Thompson, John McLoughlin and Helen Steel, candidates of the left.

Details of left candidates in all the SGE elections are available online at http://unisonunitedleft.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/vote-for-candidates-of-left-in-unison.html?m=1.

The crying need for to support those who are and will be principled and intelligent members of the bodies intended to hold our national negotiators to account is demonstrated with painful clarity by the fiasco of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) negotiations.

When, before Xmas, the local government employers and trade unions jointly succeeded in educating the Government about the futility of imposing employee contribution increases in the LGPS ahead of the next actuarial valuation of the funds, part of what was agreed (in the "Principles of Agreement") was a fairly tight timetable for negotiations on the "new" career average LGPS from 2014.

This indicated that agreement would be reached on the so-called "big ticket" items (contribution, accrual and revaluation rates) by April 2012, so that all other details could be ironed out in good time for Regulations to be made (following the necessary statutory consultation) by April 2013, allowing local authorities to be ready to implement the new scheme by April 2014.

As part of this timetable, on 13 February (two months ago today) an outline "deal" agreed between the union and employers side negotiators was forwarded to Ministers for consideration by DCLG and the Treasury. As I have blogged before (ad nauseam) the details of this proposed "deal" have not been made public.

One justification offered by our "world class negotiators" for keeping from union members the "deal" they propose on our behalf is that there may be those in the Coalition Government who would scupper the "deal" if they knew the details. I can spot one tiny (or perhaps not so tiny) flaw in this cunning stratagem - and his name is Eric Pickles.

Whatever the details of the "deal" done between our employers and our employees (and kept from us) I think it a safe bet that the details are known to some of the most dangerously reactionary politicians ever to have held Ministerial office.

Given that one of our negotiators chose the quiet seclusion of one of our national self-organised group Conferences to let on that (whilst they couldn't reveal the details) "we have broken their cost ceiling" it seems likely that, whether or not that is true, there has been, and perhaps still is, an argument going on within the Coalition Government about whether or not to endorse the "deal."

Now the Tax-Dodgers Alliance are getting in on the act (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17698094) with some of their "research" providing a basis for ill-informed scaremongering about projected pension fund deficits. Since they are no more than outriders for the Tory right this probably reflects the hostility to any defined benefit pension provision on the Tory benches.

I can't comment on a "deal" I haven't seen, although we do know it will be based on the use of CPI for the revaluation of pensions in payment and on an alignment of our Normal Pension Age and the ever escalating State Pension Age. (For these reasons it is hard to believe that the "deal" can be a good one.)

I can make two comments though. First, it is appalling practice to keep the details of a negotiated "deal" secret from the membership for a lengthy and apparently open-ended period of time. This undermines confidence in the negotiators and brings the union into disrepute.

Secondly, it is lamentably poor tactics not to set a deadline for a response. It is a sign of weakness to sit quietly and wait for the word from on high as to whether or not our members can be told what our negotiators have proposed on our behalf.

We face (at the very least) two or three more years of unprecedented attacks upon our interests from this most hostile of Governments and we badly need our national negotiators to raise their game.

Perhaps we should consider inviting Tony Robinson (in character as Baldrick) as a guest speaker to Local Government Conference to advise on negotiating skills and cunning plans...?
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