North Somerset Council have this week published their proposals for how they will make cuts to their budget in the year 2011/12 amounting to £15.8 million, as well as stating their future intentions for how they will make cuts in the 3 years after that, adding up to a £42 million cut to their budget over 4 years. Helen Thornton, Branch Secretary of North Somerset UNISON, which represents council workers expressed serious worries, not only for council staff, but for the people of North Somerset who will see their services either reduced, removed or transferred to private and voluntary sector providers over the next 4 years. Helen said: “The council have made it clear that they intend to provide less services directly, and that the direction they intend to take will be to privatise services, as well as asking citizens themselves to provide services. In the coming year we are particularly worried by the proposals which will see Children and Young People’s services take the biggest cut to their budget, along with cuts to the council’s Home Care service, other reductions to care for the elderly and disabled, cuts to Library services, Trading Standards, Environmental Health and Building Control services”.
"As far as jobs are concerned, in the first year the council will lose 130 full time jobs. The council’s future intentions make it clear that they will be operating with a significantly reduced workforce. So if we assume the council will lose 130 jobs every year for each of the 4 years of cuts, then by 2015 the council will have lost over 25% of its’ workforce, excluding those council employees who work in schools for whom we currently have no estimate of job losses. We are seriously concerned about the council’s ability to deliver services with such a reduced workforce, and we are also worried about the knock-on effects for the North Somerset economy, given that the council is currently the largest local employer. In addition to job losses, council workers will see their spending power reduced by a 3 year pay freeze, and now the council intend to cut the pay and conditions of some of the lowest paid council workers, the majority of whom are women. Not only will this impact on service delivery, but it is also a false economy, as lower paid council workers, will spend less, pay less tax, may become eligible for benefits, and as a result stunt economic growth. The council themselves have identified a number of risks associated with such savage cuts, including a slower economic recovery. For us, it makes no sense, that they are proposing measures, which will actually worsen the recovery”.
"A slowed-down economic recovery will also mean that the council’s strategy of privatisation will be a risky one – what will happen to services if the private companies delivering those services go under? Indeed the council’s own policy of freezing contract prices is also likely to have a negative impact on the private sector. At national level UNISON have been arguing that cuts to the public sector will also impact on the private sector - we have seen that already with the impact on the construction industry of the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future. Here in North Somerset we argued that signing a £10 million per year, 10 year contract for council support services, would actually put part of the council’s budget outside their control and mean that front line services would he forced to take a bigger cut – this seems to be the case for children’s services. UNISON opposes the privatisation of public services because it is our view that it leads to a more expensive and poorer quality service when private companies put profits before people. Privatisation also takes public services out of the control of locally elected councillors and therefore local people. Privatisation quite simply means that public money – our money – is used to create profits for private companies of which we are not shareholders. It remains to be seen whether savings materialise from the recent privatisation of the Crematorium and the council’s support services, along with the privatisations to come – Winter Gardens, Playhouse, Tourist Information Centre, Dual Sports Centres, and any future privatisations.”
“The council are also arguing that because they have made so many cuts since 2007 that they are in a better position than others to deal with the Coalition government’s public spending cuts. The logic of this argument escapes us, as it seems more likely that because they have cut services to the bone over the last 3 years, there is nothing left to cut and as a result front line services are bound to suffer. Over the last 3 years North Somerset Council have also kept council tax increases to well below inflation. Every year UNISON and opposition councillors have questioned this decision. The people of North Somerset should now ask whether the extra £7 million that the council would now have in its budget if the last 3 years of council tax increases had been closer to the rate of inflation (or around 5%), would now mean the council would only have to make about half the amount of cuts they are proposing in the first year. In addition, in the Comprehensive Spending Review the Coalition government announced that councils who freeze their council tax in 2011/12 will have the resulting loss of income refunded at a rate of 2.5% per year. This 2.5% would be a larger amount of money if previous years’ council tax increases had also been higher.”
“We also again question whether the decision to borrow £14 million to buy new offices in Clevedon was such a good idea, and ask the council how the loan repayments are now impacting on their budget, along with the cost of the refurbishment of Castlewood and the proposed refurbishment of the town hall in Weston. Isn’t it more likely that North Somerset residents and North Somerset council staff would prefer services and jobs above Ikea style offices? Such severe cuts means it is now likely that the citizens of North Somerset will experience much reduced and poorer services, or they just won’t get the services they are entitled to. Indeed the people of North Somerset may start to wonder why they pay council tax, when they are going to be asked to run services themselves. It is our view that the so-called Big Society idea of volunteers running local services may prove to be unworkable, particularly if citizens are either not prepared to volunteer, or are too busy holding down more than 1 job in order to pay the bills”.
“We believe that there is an alternative to the cuts, and that rather than slash funding for public services, the Coalition government should reduce the deficit by bringing in legislation to close tax loop holes and tax havens, which are used by the rich to avoid paying almost £100 billion of tax every year. We also support the introduction of a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions. Quite simply we need to tax the banks and other financial institutions that caused the recession, instead of cutting public spending, which hits the poorest hardest. It seems very odd to us that we are constantly being told we’re all in this together, when it is also made abundantly clear on a daily basis that we are not. We urge the people of North Somerset to start talking to their local councillors about the impact of the cuts on the services they rely on, to attend council meetings (18th January and 22nd February 2011) and speak up for their local services. We also urge them to join our campaign to defend public services http://www.unison.org.uk/million and to attend the Rally against the Cuts in London on 26th March 2011.”
The full document outlining the Council's budget proposals, which will be discussed by the Executive at their meeting on 14th December can be found at: http://www.n-somerset.gov.uk/cairo/committees/comidx10-2010.asp