Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Bristol City UNISON Branch (GRI 13)

  1.  I would like to bring to the attention of the Urban Affairs Sub-Committee an issue that has affected a number of our members that work for two community-led regeneration partnerships in Bristol, but has national implications.

  2.  UNISON supports the government's policies to address the problems of deprived areas through regeneration programmes and its neighbourhood renewal strategy.

  3.  In the past, regeneration programmes have been run directly by council staff, or be secondees from council, health authorities, police and other agencies. One of the lessons from past programmes is to encourage community ownership of regeneration programmes so that the solutions meet local needs and are long term. Consequently, community partnerships, such as Community at Heart New Deal for Communities (NDC) partnership (Barton Hill) and Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership in Bristol, wish to directly employ the regeneration staff that work in their respective areas.

  4.  UNISON is not against this trend, however it is concerned that the employment conditions (particularly pension arrangements) of people working for regeneration initiatives should be comparable whether they work for the council, the police, as secondees from different agencies or directly for the community.

  5.  This is an issue of both fairness and equity, and of recruitment and retention of the good quality staff necessary to successfully deliver complex regeneration initiatives in often challenging environments. There is an increasingly competitive market for regeneration staff, many of whom will be from local government, central government, the health service, probation etc. The shortage of staff with the right skills and experience has been well documented in the regeneration press and elsewhere.

  6.  The provision of comparable, transferable pension arrangements would support the Government's policy of encouraging the movement of staff between sectors—local government, health, police, civil service and community sectors—to gain new skills and experience to inform regeneration practice and policy for the benefit of the individual, employers and the sector as a whole. The Government's "A New Commitment to Neighbourhood Renewal", says "the Government is committed to ensuring a step change in the level of skills and knowledge of everyone involved in neighbourhood renewal . . . to equip public sector professionals with the skills they need to play a more effective part in neighbourhood renewal".

  7.  These principles have been endorsed in the Cabinet Office's "Staff Transfer in the Public Sector: Statement of Practice" (January 2000), HM Treasury's Note "Staff Transfer from Central Government: A Fair Deal for Staff Pensions" (June 1999) and DETR Circular 10/99 (paragraphs 91-93, Dec 1999) that staff who undertake "government" work should receive a fair deal as regards their pension arrangements, that the public sector is a good employer and that people employed in the public sector, directly or indirectly, are its biggest asset.

  8.  The issue that has been raised is how these principles can be implemented in practice. Most issues around conditions of employment (eg pay, holidays, working hours) can be resolved through local negotiations. Which is not to say there are not problems around fixed term contracts, training, low levels of staffing to meet both the requirements of funders and the expectations of the community for change and improvement leading to stress, long hours, over-worked staff and burn-out.

  9.  However, the issue of pension arrangements has caused problems, as our experience illustrates.

  10.  Community at Heart NDC partnership (Barton Hill) and Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership are responsible for managing regeneration programmes in different parts of Bristol, with Bristol City Council acting as the accountable body. Both partnerships applied to join the Avon Pension Fund so they could offer their staff the opportunity to be members of the local government superannuation scheme.

  11.  The Avon Pension Fund agreed in principle that both partnerships could join and have admitted body status. However, this was on condition that as both partnerships have fixed term funding that Bristol City Council, as the accountable body, would act as guarantor for any outstanding pension liabilities, if there are any (along with all the other liabilities and assets that may remain at the end of the regeneration funding).

  12.  The normal employer's contributions during the lifetime of the regeneration funding would be grant eligible and could be claimed back. However the concern is over any liabilities that may (or may not) arise at the end of the funding such as any residual early retirement, ill-health and death grant costs.

  13.  UNISON supported the requests of the two community partnerships.

  14.  However, Bristol City Council's view was that such potential liabilities were unquantifiable and therefore it felt unable to agree to support the two community partnerships application for admitted body status and to act as guarantor.

  15.  Inconclusive discussions and correspondence have taken place with civil servants of the then DTLR around this issue.

  16.  What this has highlighted is a number of gaps in government policy and practice.

  17.  Firstly, whether this is a national responsibility or a local one.

  18.  Secondly, that these employment issues are not picked up in the agreements that set up these community partnerships. There is usually a pressure to meet funding deadlines and to get the money spent so these agreements are often produced in a rush. As such significant issues get missed out and have to be addressed, usually unsatisfactorily, after the event.

  19.  These agreements are usually drawn up between regeneration policy and finance staff in the local authority (or government office/RDA) and members of the community, and do not involve people with personnel and employment experience. When they are drawn up there are usually no staff employed by the community partnership to be taken into account or to be consulted with, and as a consequence the trade unions are not consulted either.

  20.  Thirdly, if there are no employees in post when these partnerships are set up TUPE regulations, which would normally ensure these issues are considered, do not apply.

  21.  In conclusion the lessons we have learnt and the recommendations we would ask the Sub-committee to consider are:

  A.  That the principles of comparable conditions of employment for staff working on regeneration programmes, regardless of employer or sector, should be endorsed on the grounds of: (a) recruitment and retention of good quality staff needed to successful deliver regeneration; (b) fairness and equity; and (c) encouraging the movement of staff between different sectors.

  B.  That the government takes comes forward with concrete proposals to resolve the problem of pension arrangements for staff working for community-led partnerships managing government-funded regeneration programmes. Possible solutions include:

    a.  Staff of such community partnerships to be able to join a civil service pension scheme thus transferring any residual liability to central government.

    b.  Community partnerships to be able to join the local government pension scheme with admitted body status, but with central government acting as guarantor and accepting any residual liabilities at the end of the funding. This approach has been taken with the Bristol Development Corporation and the Bristol Education Action Zone.

    c.  That pension arrangements are included in the funding agreement between the government and the accountable body (usually the local authority). This would make it an obligation on the accountable body to act as guarantor for any pension arrangements and that any residual liabilities were eligible costs.

  C.  That trade unions are consulted in the setting up of community-led partnerships that will be delivering government regeneration programmes and that trade unions are actively encouraged to be involved in regeneration initiatives, as many of their members will live in deprived areas.

  D.  That the points raised in this submission need to be addressed in the implementation of the Government's plans, set out in the recently published "The Role of the Voluntary and Community Sector in Service Delivery: A cross-cutting review".

  Should the Sub-Committee wish to discuss any of the points raised then we are happy to attend as witnesses and give oral evidence.

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