The letter below has been sent to the Weston Mercury, Clevedon Mercury and North Somerset Times. It is really important that all North Somerset UNISON members find out how their councillor voted on the cuts before casting their vote on 5th May. If you live in North Somerset only the Green party, Labour party, Liberal Democrat party and a few Independents voted against the £18.6 million of cuts.
I am writing in response to the decision by North Somerset Council to slash £18.6 million from their budget for 2011/12. As the Branch Secretary of North Somerset UNISON, which represents workers at North Somerset Council and many smaller private and voluntary sector organisations providing council services, I believe that the cuts will impact on services for some of our most vulnerable people. It seems incredible to me that when councillors voted on the budget at the meeting on 22nd February, they had in front of them a 100 page document outlining the impact of the cuts to services, including high impacts for services to vulnerable groups, and yet they still voted for cuts in excess of those assessed as required. These include the almost £1 million reduction to Supporting People services, which include services provided to older people, people with physical and learning disabilities, people with mental health issues, people fleeing domestic abuse, refugees and homeless people. These also included the almost £2 million reduction to services to children and young people including children at risk of social exclusion, children with mental health issues, looked after children, children living in the most deprived area of North Somerset, children at risk of not entering education, employment or training, disabled children, children with complex and additional needs, and young carers.
It is also incredible that the majority of councillors voted for the cuts, despite having the option to lessen their impact with a perfectly viable alternative from the Green councillor Tom Leimdorfer, backed by Labour, Liberal Democrat and some Independent councillors. This would have involved using some of their reserves in order to reduce the cuts. We do not understand why the council are prepared to use their reserves to invest in capital projects, such as buying the Castlewood offices and refurbishing the town hall, which they claim will make future savings. But they will not apply the same argument to using reserves to invest in preventative services for our most vulnerable groups. Previous investment in Supporting People services has actually saved money, not just for the council, but also for the NHS, Police and Probation services. Quite simply it seems to us that North Somerset Council prefer to put property before people. And this is also clear from their proposals to reduce the unsocial hours payments they make to already low paid Home Care workers.
It is also disappointing that much of the local media coverage of the Council’s budget has concentrated on their proposal to move Weston Library into the town hall. This proposal will not result in an immediate loss of service, unlike many of the cuts I’ve referred to above. We would urge the citizens of North Somerset to log onto the council’s website and have a look for themselves at the document entitled “Report 13-2 Budget Information” which can be found amongst the papers for the Council Meeting of 22nd February or if you follow this link - http://www.n-somerset.gov.uk/cairo/docs/doc21869.pdf. A reading of the first four pages of the Equality Impact assessment for the budget proposals paints a frightening picture of high impacts for vulnerable people.
Finally, it was interesting to hear the Bishop of Bath and Wells urging people in his diocese, which includes North Somerset, to protest against the cuts because in his view they will affect the poorest and most vulnerable. As public sector trade union members we believe that investing in public services is an investment in all our futures. We believe that public spending cuts 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. It should be of great concern to the voters of North Somerset that the majority of councillors, mainly Conservative, approved these £18.6 million of cuts, and we would argue that voters need to find out how their councillor voted on the cuts on 22nd February, before casting their vote on 5th May.