The bitter dispute between the government and public sector workers over pensions reaches D-Day today with last-ditch talks aimed at averting fresh strikes in the new year.

Ministers are believed to have given unions a deadline of 3pm today to reach agreement during a final round of discussions on the future of four schemes covering NHS staff, local government workers, civil servants and teachers.

A union source close to the talks said a deal looked increasingly likely on local government pensions, but he accused the government of being “hell bent on confrontation” on the other schemes.

Up to two million workers went on strike last month in protest at the controversial pension changes, and intensive talks have since been held to try to break the deadlock.

A fresh row was sparked on Friday when the Department for Education and the Cabinet Office announced that changes from next year would go ahead, with further talks to be held about future arrangements.

Ministers were accused of being “unnecessarily provocative” and of imposing the increase for some workers.

A flurry of meetings will be held across Whitehall today, with Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister, and Danny Alexander, Treasury chief secretary, wanting any agreement to be made by mid-afternoon.

It is likely they will tell MPs if enough progress has been made to avert more strikes during statements to the Commons before Parliament breaks for Christmas tomorrow.

HSJ understands that unions have been given the go-ahead to reach agreement in the individual schemes rather than wait for a deal covering all public sector workers.

A statement on the Royal College of Nursing website said the college’s negotiators were “in talks with other trade unions and the Department of Health and an announcement by the government is expected later today”.