Headlines: July 29th, 2003

The country’ s biggest local government union -UNISON – is claiming that forty per cent of councillors and council officers do not know what their responsibilities on workforce matters are under the ‘Best Value’ code of practice. It follows a survey which the union carried out at this year’ s Local Government Association conference.In the light of the findings UNISON is calling for senior local authority staff to undergo training so that they are aware of how to implement the code which was designed to avoid the creation of two-tier workforces within councils. It was introduced earlier this year, and applies when Best Value authorities, are contracting out services and transferring staff to a new employer. Under the code newly-employed workers have the right to pay and conditions which are “overall no less favourable” than those for staff who have been transferred.

The UNISON survey found wide variations in knowledge of the code’s requirements around the country. Almost nine out of ten local government officers in the North West said they knew the code compared with only a third of officers from London authorities. Just under 80 per cent of North West councillors said they were aware compared with 60% of all councillors and just 37.5% of London members.

The survey also found that 64% of respondents agreed the code would help to ensure contractors provided high quality services and 89.7% strongly agreed that the duty of councils to consult staff and trade unions on best value would help improve council services. Just over three-quarters said staff or trade unions were always or often involved in decision making.

UNISON’ s national secretary for local government, Heather Wakefield, said it was disturbing that four months after the code had been distributed by the government, 40% of councillors and local government officers were saying they didn’t know what it required. The union wants now to work with local authorities to help implement the code and with the employers’ organisation to develop a training course. It is also asking councils to send it examples of good practice so they can be shared with other authorities.