After the strike, back to the drawing board?

By Ian Dunt

Unions and ministers are even disagreeing over whether they are still negotiating this morning, a day after a nationwide public sector strike.

Ministers insisted the government was going back to the negotiating table following widespread disruption yesterday, but union leaders insisted the government had already given its final offer.

"They last met us on the 2nd of November and what they've said to us is 'that's our final offer… and now we want our officials to just talk to you about how you share out the pain'," PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told Newsnight last night.

"We're saying 'we're not interested in sharing out the pain – you need to make concessions'."

But speaking to Sky this morning, chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said there were still discussions to be had on individual professions.

"Within the financial parameters that we've set out – and there isn't any more money to be put in – but within those parameters of course, as we've always said in individual scheme discussions, they can look at do they want to do it slightly differently," he said.

"That is precisely the discussions that were going on before, are carrying on now, which we'd agreed with the TUC many months ago was the process was going to go on like this.

"So in a sense the thing for both the government and the unions to do is to carry on with that process, with the same, actually very positive, very constructive mood that we'd had before because I genuinely believe that it is possible on that basis for us to reach an agreement before the end of the year."

Teaching unions will meet with Department of Education officials today while health unions meet with their opposites on Friday. Neither meeting will involve ministers.

The issue of whether negotiations were ongoing prompted a bitter exchange between Ed Miliband and David Cameron in the Commons yesterday, when the Labour leader accused the government of making its final offer a month ago.

"What he's just told the House is completely and utterly untrue," the prime minister responded.

"Today he backs the strikes because he's irresponsible, left-wing and weak."

Yesterday's strikes are thought to be the biggest in the UK since 1979.