Connexions Minister takes Unions seriously.

Unison and CYWU have held constructive talks with Minister for young people Ivan Lewis and senior officials. The basis of the meeting was the joint unions’ concern to make Connexions work and to retain the Youth Service as a viable, autonomous Service. The meeting followed exchanges of correspondence between the unions and the Connexions service national unit.

The Minister was quick to propose regular national meetings with the two recognised Unions in Connexions – UNISON and CYWU and to issue immediate guidance to all Connexions partnerships that they must consult and involve trade unions at all levels. The Minister said: “there is no excuse for not consulting trade unions in local partnerships.”

Recognising the unions’ case that more specific guidance on health and safety at work issues must be issued, the Minister would consider this further.

He recognised too that there was an urgent need to define the precise relationship between the Youth Service and Connexions and undertook to do this in his next statement in November. At this stage he said that he did not favour Youth Services coming out of local authority control, but was equally clear that working collaboratively with Connexions would be the “crucial test” for local authorities and if they failed in three or four years time, the government “would have to look at enforcing alternative models for Youth Service delivery.” He clarified also that it was not the government’s intention that all youth workers would become personal advisers.

Government research reflects unions’ concerns.
The unions came to the meeting following detailed consultation and Conferences with thousands of members. They raised concerns reflecting genuine majority views from the field. The unions expressed views were corroborated by the government’s own research into the pilot Connexions services based on interviews with 80 young people and 81 personal advisers.

National Collective Bargaining – the door not closed.
All evidence shows that the lack of a consistent framework for collective bargaining on pay not only opens employers to potential discrimination claims but also skews the labour market to the disadvantage of quality provision and professional delivery. Local determination on pay, reflects itself in unneveness of provision for young people. The inadequacies of JNC pay in the context of greater demands on youth workers within the context of Connexions could be one of the real fault lines in the whole youth policy developments. The unions also presented evidence of the acute recruitment and retention crises in both youth work and careers guidance.

While taking careful note of the unions’ concerns, the Minister was adamant that there were no plans for a national framework at this stage, but the matter remained under consideration along with related questions of training and qualification.
Officials argued that a review of youth work training and qualifications and the possible creation of more flexible access routes for younger workers would take place. The unions responded by reminding the department that previous such schemes had not reduced the current crisis or the appalling retention rates.

A number of detailed issues concerning the new training for personal advisers and its impact on professional intervention and identity were discussed. The unions noted in particular how the new training was inaccessible to part time staff. Measures to solve this would be proposed to the unions within a month.

The Minister was emphatic that money had been made available for in service training and that this was crucial to the success of Connexions, particularly where specialisms like counselling were concerned. But the unions’ highlighted the importance of initial preparation so that all personal advisers were equipped to relate to the complex needs of young people. The unions warned that young people vote with their feet and would easily establish the quality of the staff and their usefulness. It was agreed that further guidance would be given on training and staff development. The unions will return after joint work to this area.

Looking at the place of Connexions within the wider range of services to young people the unions identified a number of gaps in provision and were invited to submit further practical evidence to assist the government’s own research on the same matter, The government was keen to mention the new joined up government structures and the £billion new money to childrens and young peoples’ services.

Of great concern to staff in the field has been the relationship between personal advisers in schools and school management structures and head teachers. The unions asserted the primacy of the needs of young people in this relationship and the need for professional independence and impartiality of personal advisers. The government requested a full response to the forthcoming consultative paper on this matter.

The messages from the meeting were clear:

- the government demands Connexions employers consult properly with trade unions.

- the unions have a regular dialogue with government which will be listened constructively

- staff within Connexions need to ensure that they are involved in UNISON and CYWU to influence the national agenda.

Those attending this meeting were: UNISON, Sandra Howell National Officer, Linda Weeraserie, National Youth and Community Workers Forum, Nigel ?, Chair National Careers Forum, Doug Nicholls, General Secretary CYWU, Kevin Henman, Editor of Rapport.

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