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Acas in bid to get advisers talking

THE Government was this week urging teenagers to talk to Connexions advisers - but having less luck getting staff and managers of the careers and pastoral advice service to talk to each other.

Communications have become so fraught between advisers and managers in the Connexions partnership in Greater Merseyside that the conciliation service Acas has been brought in to try to restart negotiations over pay and conditions.

The dispute is the latest sign of discontent among staff of Connexions, which has been providing 13 to 19-year-olds with advice in and out of school since 2001.

This week education minister Ivan Lewis, launched a pound;2.3 million campaign with Arsenal defender Ashley Cole to promote the service with the slogan "Let's Talk About You".

The campaign will use television and radio advertising, as well as text messaging and decorated telephone boxes, to reach the 49 per cent of teenagers who still have not heard of the service.

Even teenagers who have used Connexions do not recognise it - nearly a tenth of 16,000 customers interviewed for a Department for Education and Skills survey said they had never heard of it.

Mr Lewis said that industrial relations between staff and managers had been problematic in only one or two of the partnerships, and insisted that the service was in a period of "celebration, not doom and gloom".

However, public services union Unison says it is growing increasingly concerned about the pay and conditions of its 15,000 members who work for Connexions.

Julie Hallam, a Unison national officer, said that members in at least two partnerships were balloting for industrial action.

Staff in the Greater Merseyside service have held four one-day strikes since April 1 over proposals to change their pay scales and working hours.

Acas this week met the partnership's management and the union in an attempt to restart talks.

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