Friday, 25 February 2011

Save Weston Library Public Meeting 19th March

Members of a group formed to campaign to save Weston super Mare library are holding a public meeting on 19th March at 11 am at the Blakehay Theatre, Wadham Street, Weston super Mare.

The group are angry at North Somerset Council's plans to sell off the building and move the library service into the Town Hall. This is one of the proposals approved by North Somerset Council in order to make £47.3 million of cuts over 4 years.

Weston Library is currently housed in a building designed by renowned local architect Hans Price. There has been little investment in the building over the years, and as a result UNISON members working at the library agree that it is not fit for purpose. If the council were prepared to invest in the building it might be a different story, but as it stands they support the move to the Town Hall. The Library service is not currently under threat. It is simply the building.

Weston & North Somerset Trades Union Council Meeting

Weston and North Somerset Trades Union Council's next meeting is on Wednesday 2nd March at 7 pm at the Bristol Hotel, 29 Locking Road, Weston super Mare. All members of trade unions living or working in North Somerset are welcome, as are members of community groups opposed to the Cuts.

Save Our NHS

North Somerset UNISON members working in the NHS will be out on the High Street in Weston super Mare and at Clevedon Market during the week of 7th March, talking to members of the public about the Coalition government’s plans to break up and privatise our National Health Service.

The NHS that we know and love is under threat. The government plans to massively shake-up the NHS, which has the potential to cause huge damage to patient care and waste vast sums of public money. The plans will turn the NHS into a business where our taxes will increasingly pay for profit-driven companies to provide our healthcare. UNISON has a number of concerns about the Health and Social Care bill which is being rushed through parliament and if approved will have serious consequences for the future of our National Health Service. In our view the Coalition government’s plans will lead to a Health Service where profit is put before patients, and so-called competition will result in monopolies for massive global health care providers, will lead to a system where successful bidders will be those who cut costs at the expense of quality, and may also lead to hospitals going bankrupt. The NHS planned by the Coalition government might have the NHS logo but the small print will read provided by whatever name Corporation.

The plans will also lead to our National Health Service being broken up, and with no national standards in place a postcode lottery will develop. The private sector providers of Health Care will not be accountable in the same way that local hospitals and GPs currently are, and a broken up National Health Service will not have the same ability to respond to national health care emergencies, such as swine flu. We are asking the people of North Somerset to come and give us their opinion on what the NHS means to them. We also want them to listen to our arguments and join our campaign to Save Our NHS by writing to their GPs, councillors, MPs and the press.

UNISON events in North Somerset will be taking place at the following times and places:

8th March on Weston High Street from 11.30 am to 2.30 pm

10th March on Weston High Street from 11.30 am to 2.30 pm

10th March at Clevedon Market from 10.30 am to 1 pm


Help save our National Health Service

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

North Somerset Council approve £18.6 million of Cuts

Tonight North Somerset Council voted to approve £18.6 million of cuts for 2011/12 - this is £1.1 million of extra cuts than those they had assessed were required as a result of the cut to their central government funding. All this despite equality impact assessments revealing high impacts for some of the most vulnerable people in North Somerset, and despite an amendment to mitigate some of the cuts put forward by the Green Councillor Tom Leimdorfer. The massive Tory majority at North Somerset ensured this budget was approved. Below is the Branch Secretary's Speech to the Council.

First of all, we are pleased to see that equality impact assessments have finally been completed and we hope that all councillors have received them and have been able to read the 100 pages of assessments in the short time available to them. These assessments make very uncomfortable reading indeed.

The report for your meeting on the 18th January stated that “some of the most critical services to the vulnerable” are now at risk. We would direct your attention to the equality impact assessments for adult social services and children’s and young people’s services – our written submission for today concentrates on a few of these and directs you to the relevant pages. Councillors should be particularly concerned by those proposals listed on pages 3 to 4 as having the highest impact including the cuts to Supporting People funding, projects funded by area based and other grants for children and young people, and the introduction of self service machines into libraries.

Page 2 of the report lists specific issues raised during consultation including the impact of reduced funding to the voluntary sector, reduced care and support for older people, reductions to the Disabled facilities grant, reduced education support services for Black & Minority Ethnic children, the impact of the council’s greater reliance on self service for those who do not have IT access or knowledge, and the impact of reducing costs on the quality of service provision generally.

It is our view that you need to look very carefully at different budget reduction proposals, both within and across directorates, in order to assess whether the individual or cumulative impact on older people, people with physical and learning disabilities, women, Black and minority ethnic groups, and children and young people will be so considerable that it would in fact constitute actual or potential discrimination if you implemented the proposals.

In addition there are a number of proposals including £726,000 of cuts to children and young people’s services, which are not fully developed and have not been equality impact assessed. Neither have we seen an equality impact assessment for the proposed freeze on contract prices for residential and nursing home providers, which will also impact on services.

We have previously expressed our view that the public spending cuts imposed by the Coalition government are both unfair because they hit the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest, and are also unnecessary because there are other ways of cutting the deficit, such as taxing the banks and other financial institutions who caused the recession. We have also urged councillors to make central government aware of the impact of the cuts on the most vulnerable citizens of North Somerset. BUT this evening there are choices to be made and ways you can lessen the impact of the cuts. I want to briefly mention some examples.

You need to ensure that the money for Castlewood and the Town Hall refurbishment is moved from the revenue into the capital budget, and that the council tax collection fund surplus and the New Homes bonus is also used for revenue spending rather than being diverted to capital.

You have £1 million in a so-called transition fund, which is actually a fund for redundancy payments – so if you don’t make staff redundant then this money can be freed up for services. In addition loosing potentially a quarter of your workforce over 4 years, and cutting the terms and conditions of some of your lowest paid staff on top of a 3 year pay freeze will have a negative impact on the North Somerset economy and will also impact on service delivery. And we still don’t know precisely how many jobs will be lost in the private and voluntary sector as a result of the cuts.

We do not understand why you are prepared to use your reserves to invest in capital projects, which will make future savings, but you will not apply the same argument to using reserves to invest in preventative services for our most vulnerable groups. For instance previous investment in Supporting People services has actually saved money, not just for the council, but also for the NHS, Police and Probation services. Preventative services for children are an investment in the future of everyone living in North Somerset. It is also interesting to us that the £7 million you currently have in reserves is approximately the same amount of money you would have had in your revenue budget if over the last 3 years you had increased council tax more in line with the rate of inflation or the 5% ceiling. As a result we think this £7 million should be put back into the revenue budget to pay for services.

The budget proposals you are considering also contain an additional £1.1 million of cuts on top of the £17.5 million assessed as being required  – we would urge you not to “get ahead of the curve” and implement these additional cuts this year.

As public sector trade union members we believe that investing in public services is an investment in all our futures. We urge you to seriously consider Councillor Leimdorfer’s amendment, and vote to implement his and our suggestions. In doing this you will then show that you have done everything you could to lessen the impact of the cuts, and you will also show that you have had due regard to your statutory equalities duties. And I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that the decisions you make this evening will have consequences for the election on the 5th of May.

Download UNISON submission on Budget 2011


Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Weston Anti Cuts Alliance on Facebook

Weston Anti Cuts Alliance now has a Facebook page - search for Weston Anti Cuts Alliance on http://www.facebook.com/

Anti-Cuts Meeting, 17th February, 7.30 pm at the Blakehay Theatre, Weston super Mare

The Weston and North Somerset Anti-Cuts Alliance is holding a public meeting to discuss the cuts to public services and the impact they will have on every single citizen of North Somerset. The meeting will take place on 17th February at 7.30 pm in the Upstairs Studio at the Blakehay Theatre, Wadham Street, Weston super Mare. We are asking people to attend who are affected by the cuts to the educational maintenance allowance (EMA), the increase in student tuition fees, the changes to how pension and benefit increases are calculated, the VAT rise, housing benefit and disability benefit cuts, changes to child tax credits, cuts to the arts, cuts to the police, cuts to the NHS, cuts to library services, children’s services, and services for the elderly and disabled. North Somerset Council are about to make £17.5 million of cuts in 2011/12, including cuts to services for some of our most vulnerable groups including older people, people with physical and learning disabilities, children and young people, people with mental health issues, people fleeing domestic abuse, refugees, and homeless people. In addition recent proposals for our National Health Service demonstrate that the Coalition government plan to dismantle and privatise it. A similar thing is happening with the Academies programme, where the state school system will effectively be privatised and will no longer be accountable to local people and local councillors. In addition schools converting to academies are taking with them funding which is currently used by the local authority to provide services for our most needy students, such as those with Special Educational Needs, emotional and behavioural difficulties, psychological problems, and childhood cancers.

At the meeting people will be able to hear teachers, youth workers, library assistants, social workers and other public sector workers talk about how the cuts will affect the services they provide in North Somerset. We also want the people of North Somerset to tell us how the cuts are affecting them. Weston and North Somerset Trades Union Council believes that the Coalition government’s savage spending cuts will hit the poorest hardest, will slow down the economic recovery, and increase unemployment. We believe that the cuts are not an economic necessity, but are politically motivated. The Coalition government do not have a mandate for such savage cuts delivered at such speed.

We believe that there is an alternative to the cuts, and that rather than slash funding for public services, the Coalition government could reduce the deficit by bringing in legislation to close tax loop holes and tax havens. There is potentially £100 billion per year out there in uncollected taxes, and a Robin Hood tax, which is a tax on financial transactions could bring in £20 billion a year. Quite simply we believe that the government ought to tax the banks and other financial institutions that caused the recession, instead of cutting public spending, which hits the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest. The Coalition government’s mantra is that ‘we are all in this together for the national interest.’ But for us it is the Anti-Cuts organisations springing up all over the country, which are acting together in the national interest by defending our public services which provide support and protection to our most vulnerable citizens, and look after every single one of us from cradle to grave. This was the idea behind our grandparents founding of the welfare state, and as their descendants we must do all we can to protect it. We are asking the people of North Somerset to attend the public meeting on 17th February and then join us in our lobby of North Somerset Council’s budget setting meeting on at 5.30 pm on 22nd February outside the old Town Hall.


Thursday, 10 February 2011

"WRINKLIES" ON THE MARCH - LONDON - 26TH MARCH

This is a rousing invitation from our retired member and self-described "wrinklie" Pat Barrett to encourage all our members to attend the TUC demonstration in London on 26th March.

"No this is not a revolutionary face cream, but it is a revolution from the retired people. Many of their generation gave their lives in World War II for a better life. It was this generation that fought for a National Health Service, no more having to have one shilling and sixpence (7 ½ pence) before you could see a Doctor. Imagine having a sick child and not having the money to pay to see a Doctor. It was this generation that fought for a Welfare State so that people got the care they needed in their home. Many people wound up in the “Workhouse” if they had no one to look after them.

There are millions of pensioners whose pensions are below the “National Poverty Line” – these are mainly women. This country is second from the bottom of the European countries for pensions. This is a disgrace as this country is one of the richest of the European countries. On the 26th of March there will be hundreds of us in London. Many will not be able to do the full march but they will be there. We have to save the hard fought for services and keep public services public.

We will be there to support you, to support the services you provide to all the vulnerable people in our society – young and old. What we save today is yours when you need it in the future. Let’s not go back to the bad old days of having to have money in your hand to get what is free for you today. Remember at what cost in lives it took to get these services. I sincerely hope to see YOU in London on 26th March. Us “WRINKLIES” will be there in force."

Pat Barrett (“Wrinklie”)
Retired North Somerset UNISON member

Letter to Mercury on the Cuts

This letter from the Branch Secretary of North Somerset UNISON was published in today's edition of the Weston Mercury

I am writing in response to your article on North Somerset Council’s budget position entitled “Council Tax Freeze, but 50 jobs will go”. The article stated that the opinion of North Somerset UNISON, which represents council workers, was that the Council’s “perilous position” has been caused by below inflation council tax increases for the last 3 years. I want to clarify that it is in fact our view that it is the Coalition government’s imposition of a 12.5% cut to North Somerset Council’s budget for 2011/12, which is responsible for their “perilous position”. Having said that it is also our view that the council have made their position worse by keeping council tax increases under the rate of inflation for the last 3 years, and as a result the money they bring in through council tax is lower than it could have been if their strategy had been one of more realistic council tax increases. The people of North Somerset may or may not be aware that the money the council spends on services is in part made up from what we pay in council tax, along with funding from central government. So a cut to central government funding, along with a smaller pot of council tax money is a disastrous combination. In addition the Coalition government have offered all councils what we would describe as a bribe to freeze council tax this year. We also believe that the council have worsened their own position by their strategy of privatisation, which has effectively put large parts of their budget outside their control, resulting in greater cuts to frontline services.

As a trade union we are also concerned by the loss of so many jobs – 135 full time posts, of which about half will be redundancies. Of course what this figure doesn’t tell you is that it’s actually more people than posts, the figure is only for year 1 of the cuts (we’ve got 3 more years to go) and it amounts to almost 7% of the council’s non-school’s workforce. If this figure were to be repeated in the following 3 years this means the council will lose over a quarter of its workforce. Given that the council is the largest local employer we have serious concerns for the North Somerset economy, particularly as currently both inflation and unemployment are rising, and if the 0.5% shrinkage of the economy in the last quarter is repeated in the next we will be back in recession. 

It is our view that the public spending cuts imposed by the Coalition government are both unfair because they hit the poorest hardest, and unnecessary because there are other ways of cutting the deficit, such as taxing the banks and other financial institutions who caused the recession. In North Somerset the council are proposing to cut services to some of our most vulnerable people including older people, people with physical and learning disabilities, children and young people, people with mental health issues, people fleeing domestic abuse, refugees, and homeless people. In many cases these services are delivered by private sector and voluntary organisations, which will also be forced to make their staff redundant.

The majority party in North Somerset Council are also the majority party in the Coalition government – a party that campaigned nationally on massive public spending cuts. We have urged Conservative councillors to tell their leaders how the cuts are impacting on the people of North Somerset and get them to change their minds. We have also urged North Somerset councillors to look at ways they can mitigate the impact of the cuts, by using their reserves, by using additional funding coming from the NHS, and ensuring that the move of staff to Castlewood and the Town Hall refurbishment are not being paid for from money that could be used to provide essential services. We urge the people of North Somerset to make their views about the cuts known to their councillors by writing to them, and by attending and even speaking at the council meeting on 22nd February when the budget will be set.
 

Monday, 7 February 2011

Paper Cuts against the Cuts - March for the Alternative 26th March

video

Academies in North Somerset

Wyvern Community School is due to become the Hans Price Academy on 1st May, under the old Academy Rules. But now there seems to be a rush of schools wanting to convert to Academies by 1st September. These so far include: Backwell, Priory, Churchill and Gordano.

If a community school decides to become an academy it means big changes – with no way back and huge implications for school staff:
  • Academies though state funded are in the independent sector – the tax payer pays but academies are unaccountable to the local community.
  • Academies are divorced from the local authority – they undermine an integrated approach to schooling
  • Academies can determine pay and conditions – they can change, for example, your pay, holiday and the length of the school day
  • Academies can set their own curriculum – this could mean that they reflect commercial interests
  • Academy sponsors can be governors – there could be a conflict of interest, especially if the sponsor comes from a private company
Find out more at www.unison.org.uk/education/defendyourschool/index.asp

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Branch Secretary's speech to the Executive of North Somerset Council

Below is the text of my speech today to the Executive of North Somerset Council who went on to recommend their budget to the Full Council meeting on 22nd February.

You may be surprised to hear that we are very sympathetic towards councillors as they make the difficult decisions over cuts to this year’s budget. BUT we also think that there are choices to be made and ways, which you can mitigate the impact of the cuts if you choose to do so. It is also our view that choices you have made previously have made your position even more difficult. I am particularly referring to your decision to keep council tax increases under the rate of inflation for the last 3 years, and your strategy of privatisation, which has effectively put large parts of your budget outside your control, and has resulted in greater cuts to frontline services. It is also the case that the majority party in this administration are also the majority party in the Coalition government – your party campaigned nationally on massive public spending cuts, and now you need to tell your leaders how the cuts are impacting on the people of North Somerset and get them to change their minds.

It was very disappointing that despite my letter to all councillors regarding the council’s legal duty to complete equality impact assessments, written at a time when I knew you would be scrutinising the budget proposals, did not result in equality impact assessments being part of the scrutiny process, as they should be. A progress report on equalities is attached as an appendix to the document you are considering today. We have been provided with initial equalities screenings for a handful of the proposals but in our view they are lacking in any equalities data and evidence of consultation.  I also understand from the council’s Equality Officer that the assessments for all the budget proposals will not be ready until 15th February. Councillors should be aware that it is a legal requirement for every service in the council to have an equality impact assessment and to make adjustments to that assessment as changes to services are proposed – the Council’s own Equality scheme also makes this clear. In addition Section 4.3 of the Council’s Equality scheme states that “All new and proposed strategies, services and policies from across the Council are required to undergo an equality impact assessment before they are presented to the Executive, as stipulated in our policy development framework.” This supports our view that it is not possible, or even legal, for the Executive to approve this budget today, as equality impact assessments are not available for all of the proposals.

The council publishes each directorate’s equality action plans on the website. I want to briefly mention a few of them now. The Development & Environment equality action plan 2010 identified an equalities issue in the number of books and other materials available for Black and Minority Ethnic groups and as a result planned to invest more money – but library material funding is being cut by £30,000 in the 2011 budget proposals, and library staff numbers are also being reduced – what will be the equalities impact?

The Adult Social Services & Housing equality action plan 2010 identified equalities issues in the lack of availability of support services for older and disabled people in rural areas as well as lack of domiciliary care in rural areas – how will this be affected by the reduction to Home Care and Supporting People funding?

In addition to equalities issues, we are still concerned that money, which could be in the revenue budget is being diverted to capital or put in reserves. We were pleased that our suggestion to review earmarked reserves has resulted in almost £1 million being released for revenue, but at the same time saddened because most of it will be used for over £600,000 of unbudgeted severance costs. We are very disappointed that you continue to refuse to use your non-earmarked reserves, even to mitigate the impact of cuts to services to children and young people, people with physical and learning disabilities and older people.

We are also disappointed that although the council has under-spent on staff salaries in 2010 to the tune of almost £790,000, it still wants to cut the unsocial hours payments it makes to some of its lowest paid workers, such as Home Care Assistants – and this is on top of the 3 year pay freeze. Not only are there equalities issues in the proposals to cut our terms and conditions, but in our view it will impact on service delivery and will cost the council more in the long run as individual employees take out legal cases against the council.

If the Executive approves the budget proposals today without having seen the equality impact assessments for all of the proposals, not only will they be acting in contravention of their legally required equality duties but they will also be acting in contravention of their own Equality Scheme. In addition the report contains some cuts the details of which are yet to be announced and which also have not been assessed for equalities impacts – these cannot possibly be approved. That is why again we ask you to delay setting your budget until you have all the relevant information, otherwise you may leave yourselves open to legal challenge, which ultimately will be more costly both in terms of money and your reputation.