Trade unions last night dismissed as a "smokescreen" proposals to take part in a joint approach asking for Government intervention in Birmingham City Council's bitter wage dispute.

In an attempt to ward off next week's oneday strike, the council is considering asking Whitehall for a contribution towards the £123 million cost of implementing a radical pay and grading review.

The idea of a special plea for emergency funding came from cabinet equalities and human resources member Alan Rudge, who is fighting to avert a 24-hour strike called by the council unions for next Tuesday.

The stoppage is in protest at the Single Status pay and grading review, which will result in 5,740 employees suffering wage cuts from April 1.

Councillor Rudge said he believed the unions would be prepared to join him in a plea for emergency funding.

The council says it needs an additional £12 million a year to increase the number of pay grades in the new system from seven to 12, significantly reducing the number of employees who will lose out.

But Gerard Coyne, regional secretary for Unite, said there was no chance of a joint approach. "We haven't signed the letter and we are not likely to," he added.

Mr Coyne insisted lack of money was not preventing a sensible settlement of the dispute.

The council was to blame for its "aggressive" style of industrial relations, he said.

He added: "Other local authorities, including Staffordshire and Shropshire, are very close to reaching an agreement on single status. They have negotiated properly rather than serving people with redundancy notices.

"The suggestion of a letter is a smokescreen. There is a financial issue but it is the process by which the council has handled this that has got our members so angry."

The chances of obtaining any money, however, appear slim with or without union backing.

The Government has steadfastly refused to assist scores of other councils who are also undergoing pay and grading reviews, arguing that local government has had 10 years to plan for the new system.

Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey) criticised the Government for failing to provide "a single penny" toward the cost of the pay and grading review. This was in stark contrast to financial assistance given to the NHS when it underwent a similar pay regrading exercise, he said.

"This is not something of our own making. We were ordered to do this by Government, yet we have been given nothing to meet the additional costs. I believe this is grossly unfair and I actually feel quite bitter about it.

"The least the Government could do is make a contribution," Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey) added.

The council faces a £100 million bill for back pay for hundreds of women workers who have been able to prove they were paid less than men doing similar jobs. In addition, the annual cost of the new pay system will be £23 million this year rising to £29 million next year.

Coun Rudge said he believed there was no great appetite among staff for strike action and he accused the unions of issuing misleading statements in an effort to stir up discontent.

He added: "They are saying we are saving money through this. We certainly are not.

"Some 41,000 people will be affected by the review, yet only 4,262 have voted to strike. That is only one in 10. It is hardly an overwhelming mandate."

He said the new system would be fairer, with 41 per cent of staff receiving a pay rise against 12 per cent whose pay would be cut.

Coun Rudge met union leaders yesterday and will hold further discussions today in an attempt to avert next week's one day strike, when 20,000 workers are expected to walk out.

He said it was impossible to estimate the impact but contingency plans were being put in place to safeguard essential services.

He hoped next Tuesday's full council meeting would still be able to go ahead, despite the strike. "It would be a very sad day for democracy if we were unable to meet," he added.