Hopes rise of end to bitter pensions row

NHS workers last night moved closer to a deal on controversial pension reforms despite some civil servants and teachers rejecting the coalition’s “final” offer.

A union source said an agreement in principle covering at least 450,000 health workers had been hammered out with government officials.

More talks are due to take place over local government and civil service pension schemes but Mark Serwotka, leader of the Public and Commercial Services Union, rejected the offer and said “nothing has changed” since up to two million people went on strike on 30 November. He has threatened further industrial action if the government does not relent, although ministers have said the offer is “final”.

A Cabinet office source said the PCS would not be invited to further talks over civil service pensions, sparking union accusations of “bullying”.

Prospect, the second-largest civil service union, has agreed to further talks and Unison, the largest public sector union, said it will take the offer to its members. Christina McAnea, head of health, said: “On some issues ­– such as contribution rates for the low paid next year, and for people close to retirement – we have made progress. On others, we always knew this would be a damage limitation exercise.”

Brian Strutton, national secretary for the GMB, hailed a “major step forward” in negotiations but added: “No-one should underestimate the difficulties of finishing off the detail and then getting it approved by health workers out there.”

The government said it is still hopeful of widespread deal by the end of the year. Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander will make a statement in the House of Commons today.

It comes as London Underground (LU) opened a legal challenge against train drivers’ union Aslef over a planned Boxing Day strike over pay.

LU is contesting the validity of the action which follows union demands for more money for working the day after Christmas. LU’s Howard Collins branded the strike threat “disgraceful” and said Boxing Day is already covered by an agreement with unions. Aslef said going to court means “wasting time and wasting money”.