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• David Coats, TUC head of economic and social affairs, said, “Partnership depends on the leadership of a few key individuals who are willing to take risks and abandon accepted ways of doing business.

“The test of partnership is whether once you have something established you can drill down through the organisation, down to the way that line managers behave so people can see that there is a discernible difference in conditions at work. The key test is if those individuals leave. Can the partnership survive?”

He added that successful partnership is inevitably a time consuming process. “You cannot underestimate the time and the patience involved. It takes a long time to build trust and use it as the foundation for a new approach. If partnership is seen as another quick fix, it is not going to work.”

• Pat MacDonald, HR director employee relations at Littlewoods, said initiatives introduced since the partnership approach was adopted 18 months ago include so-called ear-to-the-ground sessions.

She said, “The whole of our executive management team have diary events where they sit down and answer face-to-face questions. The results are publicised all over the organisation.”

MacDonald said all staff are actively encouraged to join the union, of which the chief executive is also a member. “We encourage maximum trade union participation because we have chosen them as the employee representative.”

Other changes include the conversion of benefits such as company cars into cash. MacDonald said the aim was to create a situation where the only difference between staff is their pay packets. She added, “Partnership is the new way forward in Littlewoods.”

• David Yeandle, head of employment affairs, Engineering Employers’ Federation, questioned why more organisations are not adopting partnership. He said, “The first possible reason is that we need more role models. We also need more research. Companies need reassurance that going down this route is going to add value to their business.”

• John Lloyd, AEEU national education and development officer, said he believed partnership had made great strides.

He said it was now becoming the “norm rather than something done by self-consciously progressive organisations”. He added, “The principles of partnership are now almost so well known that they are boring.”

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