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I am 50 years old and have employed people for about half my life. My company was quite lucky relatively recently; we consulted with staff and were able to agree a deal under which there were no redundancies. However, I had to make redundancies in the early 2000s, and it is not a nice thing to go through, although obviously it is a lot worse to be made redundant.
We need to be aware that at the end of this process some people will lose their jobs. The challenge in politics is the national cake, and to some extent the political process can affect how that is divided. Our difficulty now is that we have to get a time machine and borrow from our children some slices that will be baked in future so that we can put them towards the national cake today. The real challenge is how we get, over a period of time, to the stage at which the amount of cake baked every year is the amount consumed every year.
How do we do that in a just manner? The Opposition have argued that our attempt unilaterally to challenge the contract with the civil service is unfair, whereas their attempt unilaterally to challenge the contract with the civil service was fair. They have argued with our proposals, but those are far more generous than the conditions for the staff of Members of Parliament, for instance. Those staff are all hard-working, but they are subject to the statutory redundancy scheme. Birmingham city council also operates the scheme. My wife works for British Waterways, a public body that also operates that scheme.
Basically, the Bill creates a negotiating position that means that the trade unions cannot veto any agreement. That is the normal situation for employers. Employers can present their staff with a new contract, and the staff have either to take it or leave it. That is what has happened in all the pay and grading reviews in local government across the country. Pretty well all local government employees have gone through the process of being presented with a new contract. What is happening now is that a new contract is being presented. We have said that we are aiming to protect the lower-paid. The most important thing to try to do is protect people against unnecessary redundancies. That is the critical thing.
If six years' redundancy has to be paid to somebody, how can things be reorganised in a cost-effective manner? They cannot. Even paying three years' redundancy creates a major problem because it costs more that year to make somebody redundant than to continue to employ them. That means that those not covered by the redundancy schemes are the ones to whom people go to find the savings. That does not seem fair.
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