Thursday, 10 February 2011

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.

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