Coalition’s pensions concessions not enough for unions

By Alex Stevenson

A "generous offer" to unions which would preserve all public sector workers' accrued pension rights has been rejected by unions.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the offer needed to be considered in detail, but confirmed that preparations would continue for massive strike action on November 30th after the 'enhanced offer' from ministers.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander had outlined the details of the government's proposals in a statement to MPs this lunchtime.

As well as protecting all accrued rights, ensuring that "final salary means just that", the offer would mean all those retiring within ten years would not be negatively affected by the reforms.

The government has also proposed increasing the overall pension accruals to one-60th of the average salary for each year worked – an eight per cent increase on the previous offer.

"This generous offer should be more than sufficient for agreement to be reached with the unions," Mr Alexander told MPs.

"I hope the unions will devote their energy to reaching agreement and not on unnecessary damaging strike action."

That hope was dashed when Mr Barber emerged from Congress House, having consulted with union chiefs.

"It's important the government has moved. But as things stand there are not new offers on the table," he said. "That can only come through the sector talks."

Mr Alexander had made clear the 'enhanced offer' was conditional upon the coalition's broader pension reforms being agreed.

These include an increase in the retirement age for public sector workers to 66 and an indexing switch from retail price index inflation to the lower consumer price index inflation.

"Even with these moves the government has made today, and we welcome those moves, there are still some very difficult issues – very damaging issues that are involved in these negotiations."

The coalition is seeking to ward off the potential walkout on November 30th after months of deadlock. Unions have opposed changes to public sector pensions which the government says are necessary to deal with Britain's ageing population.

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Rachel Reeves said today's concessions were a "a welcome change from the intransigence which has come before".

A meeting in the Cabinet Office which began at 09:30 GMT this morning saw chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude bid to win over union officials including TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.

Chancellor George Osborne had expressed confidence about prospects for a deal ahead of the talks. He told MPs yesterday: "I think when people will see it, they will see it is fair: fair to the public sector, people in the public sector will get a much more generous pension than is available in almost any part of the private sector; but it is also fair to the taxpayers."