To all members of MHS staff

To all members of MHS staff

27 February 2008

Dear Colleague,

I want to take this opportunity to write to you about the current situation we find ourselves in and to explain issues that you may have been informed about by UNISON, in relation to voluntary severance, pay and transformation.

We are at a critical period in the transformation programme as we approach the May FSA Board meeting. It is now vital that we are able to demonstrate progress in all areas including developing new terms and conditions of service that will make the continued employment of MHS staff an attractive alternative compared to a control body pilot. I have always been open and honest with you about the concerns this raises and again, I intend to be so now.

As you may be aware, we have been trying really hard to engage in meaningful talks on both pay and transformation issues with UNISON. However, UNISON have been reluctant to talk about these matters as they believe we have not offered a good enough leaving package to those choosing to apply for voluntary severance or voluntary early retirement, or to those who left the MHS under the SVT programme.

At the time of the SVT programme, we were only in a financial position to offer a voluntary/compulsory package equivalent to statutory provisions for those in the LGPS scheme. This package did not compare well against that which those leaving on the PCSPS scheme received. Recognising this disparity when determining the voluntary severance scheme, I elected to exercise maximum discretion and increased the package from the statutory 30 weeks to a maximum of 104 weeks pay, depending on age and length of service. I did this to reduce the disparity between the schemes and to ensure we were offering a generous package which was comparable and which is better than most local government employers.

We have utilised all available funds not only to fund the voluntary severance/ early retirement package offered to 61 of our staff who applied under the current scheme, but also to retrospectively apply similar terms to those who left under the SVT programme (subject to HM Treasury approval).

I believe that UNISON has failed to recognise the significant improvement in the severance package. Not only this, but they have demanded that all LGPS members who are made redundant, irrespective of age are awarded 6 and 2/3 added years, an element which goes beyond that offered by most LGPS employers and which is, quite frankly, unaffordable within the budget available.

This was explained to UNISON by me, Ian Reynolds, our MHS Chair and by John Harwood, the FSA Chief Executive at a meeting on 14 February.

Whilst we now have a further schedule of meetings planned with UNISON they have advised us that they cannot make progress on pay and transformation issues whilst these pension demands are unmet. Whilst I recognise that UNISON is there to seek the best deal for its members, I believe there comes a point where they must accept the maximum achievable deal that is on the table and turn their focus more directly to the future of the organisation and I firmly believe that that point is now.

We are at a critical point in the transformation programme and the FSA Board are seeking positive signs that the MHS and UNISON are working together to demonstrate that they can reshape the organisation. We have a target date of 31 March to reach an agreement on revised terms and conditions of service. These have been outlined on the transformation portal and presented to UNISON at the Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee on 8 February for consideration and negotiation. Click here to view.

I can assure you that we are not seeking to reduce basic pay rates but that we are seeking to pay staff for the hours that are worked. We have to recognise that some of our allowances are out of date and are out of line with what food business operators will be able to pay in a future of full cost recovery. We therefore need to reshape our employment practices whilst protecting the employment rights and job security of our staff.

Coupled with this you may also be aware that we have made a generous pay offer of 2.99% for 2007/08 and 3.01% for 2008/09 (at a time when public sector settlements are being made at 2%). This demonstrates our continuing wish to improve and increase basic pay rates. As time has moved on and we are under increasing pressure to achieve transformation it is now necessary to link pay and transformation to try to achieve a speedier resolution to both issues.

If we are unable to present the FSA Board with a terms and conditions package and reassurance of our readiness and preparedness to transform, the FSA Board may go ahead and authorise a control body pilot. For your reference you may wish to read the papers presented to the Advisory Body on 1 February 2008 which are available on the FSA website. Click here to see the papers.

If the pilot goes ahead, it would include a TUPE transfer of those staff in the selected pilot areas, a move we would not wish to see. UNISON, whilst advocating they wish the MHS to remain in the public sector has indicated that they perceive this as ‘a threat’ which they are, if necessary, prepared to face with their members.

I hope that you will join me in saying that we can meet the transformation challenge and deliver revised terms and conditions and an agreed two year pay deal, which would demonstrate our ability to change and meet all the future demands. I would ask that you urge your UNISON representatives to engage fully with us to achieve an agreement on pay and transformation.

Thank you for taking the time to read this message. Please do raise any matters within it with your HRAs or line managers.

Yours sincerely,
Steve McGrath
Chief Executive

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