The range of pressures which has impacted on local government in the 1980s has forced the emergence of dynamic and sophisticated forms of industrial relations at the workplace level. It is clear, however, that with conceptual tools forged to analyse developments in the private manufacturing sector, very few attempts have been made by academics, policy‐makers or commentators to discuss the structures and processes which have emerged. The character of the changes at authority level are considered using material from a survey of personnel officers in over a third of authorities in England and Wales and within the context of prevailing analytical and theoretical frameworks. It is argued that the distinctive development of the personnel function in local government has resulted in a managerial process which conforms to key features of the human resource management (HRM) model, in particular the devolution of personnel responsibilities to line managers and the integration of personnel concerns at the strategic level. However, other features of this model are less in evidence. The search for employee commitment and flexibility remains patchy and often appears as a practical response to labour market and competitive pressures. Furthermore, collectivist features of employee relations remain well entrenched with the continued encouragement of both union membership and involvement. This is not to deny change beyond the HRM model. Thus, it is clear that established joint machinery is becoming increasingly unable to deal with ongoing issues while the trade unions are gradually being forced into a consultative rather than a bargaining role.
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