It doesn't really matter that the trade unions are refusing to join Birmingham City Council in a plea to the Government for millions of pounds to underwrite a pay and grading review. The money is most unlikely to be forthcoming, since any emergency aid here would have to be replicated across the country where scores of other local authorities are also battling with the cost of implementing the Single Status wage reforms.
The suggestion of an approach to ministers, made by human resources cabinet member Alan Rudge, was presumably well meant, although a little naive. If Coun Rudge expected support from the unions, he is today a wiser and sadder man. Industrial relations at the council are now so bad that any request for help from the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is bound to be viewed with deep suspicion.
Gerard Coyne, the regional secretary for UNITE, who is a former Labour city councillor in Birmingham, called Coun Rudge's plan a "smokescreen" designed to divert attention from the council's hamfisted attempts to impose upon 41,000 employees the new pay and grading structure. In doing so he contrasted what is happening in Birmingham with events in Staffordshire and Shropshire where, apparently, unions and councils are close to reaching agreements on Single Status.
Only time will tell whether employees at Birmingham City Council have the appetite for a protracted dispute, although it should be borne in mind that only 4,262 actually voted in favour of next Tuesday's 24-hour strike. What remains undeniable however is the fact that Birmingham, in common with other local authorities, has had 10 years to plan for Single Status. Little or nothing was done by Labour before 2004 and the council is now paying the price for squeezing a complex task into three years.