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We can negotiate, insists Cable

Vince Cable has insisted the Government is willing to negotiate over reforming public sector pensions amid warnings it could be facing the biggest wave of strikes for almost a century.

The Business Secretary said he believed "reasonable people" could still resolve the dispute after Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison trade union, threatened the most wide-ranging industrial action since the general strike of 1926.

The unions reacted with fury after Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander on Friday set out plans which require most public sector employees to work longer and pay more for less generous entitlements in retirement.

Union negotiators angrily accused ministers of "scuppering" long-running negotiations aimed at reaching agreement on reform of the public sector pension system. With up to 750,000 teachers and civil servants set to join a one-day strike on June 30, Mr Prentis said that it could simply be the start of a prolonged industrial upheaval.

"It will be the biggest since the general strike. It won't be the miners' strike. We are going to win," he said. "I strongly believe that one day of industrial action will not change anyone's mind in government. But we are prepared for rolling action over an indefinite period."

He was backed by TUC general secretary Brendan Barber who said that his comments reflected the "real anger" felt right across the union movement.

"If the Government are determined to push through a huge attack on people's pension entitlement, they are not prepared to negotiate in a sensible, reasonable, fair-minded way, then the unions will have no option open to them other than to try to defend their members through industrial action," he said.

Mr Cable sought to strike a more conciliatory tone but stressed the current system had to be reformed.

"The Government wants to negotiate over this and our belief is that most trade unionists want to negotiate over this as well," he said. "It's a very big, complex, difficult issue. But there's got to be reform otherwise the burden falls on taxpayers and future generations. We have got to do something about it.

"We are talking about how future pensions are to be paid for. Reasonable people, I think, can agree and negotiate on how we deal with that problem."

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