Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Youth Services Campaign in UNISON In Focus

The following article appears in this month's UNISON In Focus

'We never stop fighting until the fight is either done or won'

"North Somerset UNISON will continue to fight the decision to remove youth services," is the message from North Somerset UNISON's Helen Thornton the day after the Tory-led council voted to completely remove youth services from the area.

In one of the longest debates the council has seen, speaker after speaker spoke out against the cuts, which will, Ms Thornton reported "see the few youth support workers that remain effectively become social workers," as they replace social work posts already lost.

The decision came after a campaign in which local teenagers had joined with trade unions to lobby the council three times and in which over 3,200 signatures had been added to a petition to save the service.

"The Tories say that not many kids in North Somerset use these services," said Ms Thornton.

"First of all, that's not true. This is generally an affluent area, but some parts of it have high levels of deprivation, and there are 14 youth clubs throughout North Somerset which work with some of the most vulnerable kids."

Council leader Nigel Ashton said that the council will review the decision in six months and promised £250,000 for the services to be transferred to voluntary groups.

North Somerset UNISON is determined to fight the decision and press for the six month review.

Ms Thornton says they will be encouraging parents of children who will be particularly disadvantaged by this decision to take legal action against the council: "In our view the council have now created a postcode lottery across North Somerset, with some young people, who live in areas where organisations are able to step forward to provide activities for young people, still benefitting from some sort of youth service, but other young people will not have that opportunity.

"The council leader made a promise to review the situation regarding the transfer of youth services to other organisations in six months time and we will hold him to that. He also promised some extra money to help with this transfer, and we will hold him to that too.

"As a branch we never stop fighting until the fight is either done or won."

Link to article on UNISON website http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=7611

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Thursday, 23 February 2012

Swindon Borough Council cuts budget on Trade Union Facility Time

Tonight Swindon Borough Council met to set their budget. Included in the cuts, was a £29,000 cut to the budget for trade union facility time, which will result in the redundancy of 2 UNISON Reps who job share a full-time job.

The decision made by Swindon Council tonight should be of concern to all trade unions, and all workers whether they're in a trade union or not. Even workers who are not trade union members need to stand up now in defence of trade union rights, because it's the trade unions who have throughout the last century won workers rights, which we all pretty much take forgranted now. But without trade unions how much longer will these rights last...

Here's the BBC coverage - it's about 3 minutes in:

Here is President Obama on why he supports trade unions

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Sign the Petition in support of the Dignity Code for older people's care

New code established to safeguard older people’s dignity in care
Britain’s biggest pensioner organisation, the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) today (Wednesday February 22) launches a high profile Dignity Code which sets out minimum standards for the dignified treatment of older people, whether in hospital or the community. The Code has been widely supported by both those in the care sector and across the political spectrum. Signatories include care minister Paul Burstow and his opposite number Liz Kendall, along with Dame Jo Williams of the Care Quality Commission, Dr Peter Carter of the RCN and Lord Stewart Sutherland, chair of the Royal Commission on long-term care.
The NPC is also calling on the public to support the initiative by signing an online petition. Campaigners hope to attract over 100,000 signatures to trigger a debate in the House of Commons on the need to improve the care of Britain’s elderly. The petition can be signed at: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/27050.
Dot Gibson, NPC general secretary said: “Every week we are struck by another headline which reveals the neglect and ill treatment of older people either in their own home, a care home or hospital. This has got to stop. Much of what the Dignity Code calls for is to treat individuals as human beings, rather than as second-class citizens who can have their wishes and feelings ignored and overlooked. Providing someone with personal dignity must be a basic requirement in any care setting – and there must be no excuse for denying someone their right to be treated with respect. The Code should be seen in every GP surgery, social services department, hospital ward and nursing home. Individuals and their families should have confidence that certain practices will be unacceptable and that they can demand better treatment. This is the first step on the long road to getting 21st century care for Britain’s older patients.”

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

North Somerset Council vote for the complete removal of Youth Services

Members from North Somerset UNISON, UNITE, Weston and North Somerset Trades Union Council and young people from youth clubs across North Somerset demonstrated at tonight's council meeting against massive cuts to services, including the complete removal of the youth service.

There were 6 public speakers, 4 of whom spoke for Youth Services including Richard Capps, Secretary of Weston and North Somerset Trades Union Council, Monica Stanley from UNITE, and Helen Thornton from UNISON.

The council had one of the longest debates ever in a budget meeting, but despite an amendment put forward by Green, Labour, and Liberal Democrat councillors to save Youth Services, the massive Conservative majority voted against the amendment and by doing so have completely removed the professional youth service from North Somerset as of 1st April 2012. When the vote was taken it was a named vote so residents of North Somerset will know which of their councillors voted to remove youth services. The vote was 39 Conservative councillors voted for cuts to youth services, and 15 Green, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors voted for the amendment to save youth services. We will publish the results of the vote as soon as we have them.

Opposition councillors accused the Tories of not caring about young people. They also accused them of not listening to young people, especially as this was the 3rd protest by young people at a council meeting, and Mike Bell presented UNITE's petition with 3261 signatures against the closure of youth services.

Councillor Tom Leimdorfer proposed the amendment and also called for a named vote. He described the ruling group as shedding crocodile tears when they claimed they didn't want to make these cuts but had to. Although agreeing they are a low funded council they have made the situation worse by their below inflation council tax increases since 2007, leaving them £8 million a year worse off than the average for councils in the south west. He said that the few youth support worker posts that remain will effectively become social workers, and will be replacing the social work posts lost through the reorganisation of Children's and Young People's Services. He also questioned the amount of reserves and noted these had risen since last year. He said that voting for the amendment to save youth services would show the people of North Somerset that the council are listening to them, and that it's totally affordable.

Councillor Mike Bell said that the 71% cut to youth services was a much greater cut than other services were taking across the council. Because nothing was in place from April there would be no youth services from then until September, by which time the commissioning groups should have got themselves together and provided a burst of activity from September to March 2013, and then the money dries up and there'll be nothing.

Councillor Donald Davies argued to save youth services and accused the ruling group of lack of interest in young people and described the process as a shambles. He noted that the budget scraps youth services and instead hopes that groups will come forward to provide activities for young people - but there's nothing in place. He also accused the ruling group of not bothering to talk to young people, despite the fact that they've come to council meetings and told the council what they want. He concluded with the quote of the night that young people will soon be wiping councillors arses when they're old and need looking after.

Council leader Nigel Ashton said they would review the situation in 6 months, and promised an additional £250,000 from the corporate transition fund for the transfer of youth services to parish councils and other voluntary groups, but this won't be enough and the services quite simply will not be sustainable.

Here's a link to the BBC local news coverage (12 minutes, 31 seconds in): http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01cbms7/BBC_Points_West_21_02_2012/

Here's the link to the ITV local news coverage: http://www.itv.com/westcountry-east/

Here's some pictures from the protest

Here's my speech:

We have sent you three documents, which form UNISON’s submission for this year’s budget - I hope you’ve had a chance to read them. I’m going to briefly talk about a few things, which we think you need to consider this evening before you set the council tax and approve the budget.

First, we are asking you to reject the council tax freeze grant, because accepting it will result in a £2.3 million hole in your budget for next year and subsequent years, and will also result in either deeper cuts, or higher council tax increases in future. If you choose this option you will not be alone - at the latest count 31 councils have rejected the freeze grant, including 13 Conservative administrations that are raising council tax between 2.46% and 3.5%. You will also be aware that the Fire Service have rejected the freeze grant, and increased their precept by 3.95%, and parish and town councils have increased their precepts by an average of 7.83% in order to keep up with costs.

Second, we ask you to consider whether the £11 million you have put aside in your reserves, contingency and transition funding is strictly necessary at a time when you are making such deep cuts. You might want to ask how often you’ve had to call on these funds in the past – for instance at the end of the current financial year there is £600,000 of unused contingency funding, which is going into reserves.

Third, we ask you to think about the economic impact of the cuts you are making. 280 full-time job losses across the council equates to about 400 people, and a quarter of the council’s workforce. Economists have also estimated that for every 100 jobs lost in the public sector, the knock-on effect will be 41 jobs lost in the private sector. It is then worth noting that over the last year North Somerset has seen greater increases in unemployment than the average for both the West of England and the country. We are currently seeing the highest levels of female unemployment since 1987 – this is a direct result of public sector cuts as two thirds of the public sector workforce, including the council’s own workforce, are women. There has also been an increase of over a third in levels of youth unemployment  – there are now almost 1000 young people claiming jobseekers allowance in North Somerset.

Finally, we have provided you with our own assessment of the equalities impact of the cuts across the council. These show particularly high impacts for older people, disabled people, young people and women. I want to mention one example of this, which is the high impact for young people of your proposal to completely remove the professional youth service in North Somerset. The actions you propose to mitigate this high impact involve other organisations providing positive activities for young people, and you have set aside a small pot of money, which groups can apply to, to fund these activities. But it is our view that because this money is only for one year that these new look youth services will not be sustainable. It is also our view that before you approve the cut to youth services, you need to see an update on which organisations are going to take on which elements of the youth service from 1st April 2012. This will enable you to assess whether or not cutting youth services means you are actively discriminating against particular groups of young people.

If you are not completely sure that adequate alternative provision has been made, then you cannot be sure that you are meeting your equalities duties and therefore you must abandon this proposal, or at least put it on hold in order to allow more time for the transfer of youth services to other organisations. This is what Somerset County Council have done and Opposition councillors here have put forward an amendment, which also has this aim. We urge you to seriously consider this in order to ensure you meet your equalities duties.

We hope that councillors have had time to read all of the full equality impact assessments. You now need to consider whether your budget proposals include enough concrete actions to mitigate the impact of the cuts, or whether the proposals contain such serious equalities impacts that the legal duties imposed on you mean you cannot implement these cuts. You may as a result have to consider using some of your reserves and contingency or refuse the council tax freeze grant, in order to lessen the impact. We firmly believe that if you go ahead and implement many of the proposals in the medium term financial plan then the best case scenario is that people will take legal action against the council, while the worst case scenario is that people will die.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Stop the attack on UNISON in Swindon

Swindon Council is setting its budget on Thursday 23rd February 2012.  Included in the budget is a proposal to cease the central funding of two part-time UNISON posts, Branch Secretary and Assistant Branch Secretary, who have their legitimate trade union facility time paid for in this way. 

The Council is proposing to make the two post-holders redundant. It is also proposing to cut 50% of the funding for the UNISON Service Conditions post.

This is a vindictive attack upon UNISON and the individuals concerned, and will be strongly resisted by UNISON.

To demonstrate opposition to this proposal, we are asking for support at a lobby of the Full Council Meeting on 23rd February, 6.00pm, Civic Offices, Euclid Street, Swindon SN1 2JH.

You can also email Swindon Council Leader Rod Bluh rbluh@swindon.gov.uk expressing your opposition to the proposals.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Lobby of North Somerset Council Budget Meeting - 21st February



The council will be voting to approve their budget, proposals which amount to £50 million of cuts including:

  • £14 million of cuts to Adult Social Services – reductions in services to the elderly, disabled   and carers
  • £12 million of cuts to Children & Young People’s Services – a new focus on only 300 families
  • The complete removal of Youth Services in North Somerset
  • Reduction in Domestic Abuse services
  • Reduced opening hours for rural libraries
  • 280 full-time job losses across the council

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Save the NHS - Act Now!

We have a very short amount of time to save our NHS. Here's a few things you can do:

Write to your MP and ask them to sign the Early Day Motion demanding that Andrew Lansley publish the risk register for the Health & Social Care Bill. Here's the EDM link: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/2659

Find your MP here: http://www.writetothem.com/

Lobby a Lord: www.goingtowork.org.uk/nhs-bill-lobby-your-local-peer/

Sign the official e-petition calling on the Government to 'Drop the Bill': http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/22670

The National Pensioners Convention have booked Committee Rooms CR10 and CR12 from 2.15pm to 5pm and MPs and peers (particularly crossbenchers) have been asked to come and meet health professionals and service users and listen to their reasons for opposing the bill. Find out more: http://npcuk.org/

Attend the Mass Lobby of Parliament and Protest Rally in London on Wednesday 7th March from 6 pm at Central Hall, Westminster. Register for a place at: http://www.goingtowork.org.uk/rally-to-save-our-nhs/

Monday, 6 February 2012

Letter to Weston Mercury in response to letter regarding public sector pensions

The following letter has been published in this week's Weston Mercury in response to a letter regarding public sector pensions in last week's issue:

"I am writing to correct the comments made by one of your letter writers in last week’s Mercury about so-called “gold-plated” public sector pensions. The reality is actually rather different because the average local government pension is £4000 per year for men and £2600 for women – hardly gold-plated. It should also be pointed out that local government workers are also income tax payers, council tax payers, national insurance contribution payers and VAT payers. In addition local government workers contribute an average of 6.4% of their salaries to their pensions. The local government pension scheme is affordable – it is well financed with income from investments and contributions massively exceeding expenditure on benefits. The government have recognised this fact, along with the fact that the proposed 50% increase in contributions would turn out to be a false economy by forcing many workers to opt out of the scheme and consequently have to rely on the state in retirement. As a result the ongoing pensions negotiations are now looking at other ways to find the money that the government wants to take out of the pension scheme to pay down the deficit.

The local government pension scheme also has investments in some of the UK’s top companies, and is therefore creating jobs and regenerating the economy. It is not subsidised by private sector workers, and it is not paid for by council tax payers – only 5% of the income collected through council tax goes to our pension fund as part of the employer’s contribution. If the residents of North Somerset think that they are paying for our pensions, then they also need to realise that they are paying for the pensions of private sector workers, because private companies simply add the costs of pensions to the prices they charge us. Quite simply we all pay for each other’s pensions. In fact the really gold-plated pensions are to be found in the private sector, where Chief Executives award themselves large pensions, while offering something much less substantial to their workers - if they offer them anything at all. In local government our Chief Executive is in exactly the same pension scheme as all local government workers.

I would also like to clarify the point I made about the council tax freeze grant, which central government have offered all local authorities this year, and which a number of councils, including Conservative administrations in Surrey, Cambridgeshire, Chelmsford and Peterborough have rejected on the grounds that it will create black holes in their budgets for future years, and because rejecting it is the only way to protect vital public services. The council tax freeze grant is not a good deal for councils for a number of reasons. First as a grant equivalent to 2.5% of council tax income it is well under inflation, and this means that councils’ incomes aren’t keeping up with their costs – we are currently seeing Parish councils raise their precepts for this very reason. Second, the freeze grant is only funded for one year, which means councils will have a hole in their budget for next year and every year after that. In North Somerset’s case this means that every year from 2013 onwards they will have £2.3 million less to spend on services, and this is on top of the £50 million of cuts they are currently making. The consequence of this budget hole is likely to be either much steeper council tax increases in future years or even deeper cuts to services. For instance, North Somerset residents are currently being consulted on reductions in library opening hours. If the council accept the freeze grant then it is likely that in future they will be consulted on library closures instead.

If instead the council reject the freeze grant and increase council tax by between 2.55% up to the cap of 3.5% this money would remain in their budget for subsequent years. We have calculated that a 3.5% increase over the next 3 years would give them an extra £10 million in their budget for services, at a cost of £3.35 per month for the average council tax payer. Residents of North Somerset who have elderly relatives, disabled relatives, children and young people in their families may want to consider whether paying what amounts to an extra £40 a year is a price worth paying to lessen some of the massive cuts the council will be making to services for our most vulnerable residents. Those North Somerset residents who have been campaigning recently to have street lights turned back on, or to save youth services might also want to consider what the council could do with this extra money.

Local government minister Eric Pickles has said that councils have a moral duty to accept the council tax freeze grant, but Mr Pickles and the Coalition government also have a moral duty to ensure that funding to councils is at a level at which councils are able to provide services. A rejection of the council tax freeze grant will send a clear message to Westminster that North Somerset Council, as a low-funded authority, cannot provide essential services on the current levels of government funding, and that increasing council tax is the only way to protect vital public services to our most vulnerable citizens. Finally, an increase in council tax is not about our pensions – it’s about services for the most vulnerable people in North Somerset and ultimately it’s up to the residents of North Somerset to decide whether those services are worth paying for. But I for one think that North Somerset will be a very poor place to live if residents aren’t prepared to pay a bit extra to protect services to the vulnerable."

Report from Unite the Resistance Meeting, Bristol - 6th February

I attended this meeting and am writing this report in a personal capacity. What follows is simply an account of the meeting.

Over 240 people attended tonight's Unite the Resistance Meeting in Bristol. Speakers included John McInally (PCS), Dave Wilshire (CWU), Jane Taylor (UNITE) and John McLoughlin (UNISON - speaking in a personal capacity)

Many of the platform speakers and speakers from the floor spoke about the pensions strike. John McInally said that 30th June had proved that workers would fight for pensions. Private sector workers at Unilever are also fighting for their pensions. The campaign is for fair pensions for all. 30th November was a great day, but when Francis Maude informed the unions that they needed to agree to the deal by 19th December, all trade unions should have told him where to go. He informed the meeting that Education and Civil Service unions are currently conducting an indicative ballot of members, with the possibility of further industrial action before the end of March. John concluded by saying that if we don't continue the fight for pensions then we'll have sent a message to the government that they can keep cutting. He said that some trade union leaders ought to spend more time fighting the Tories, and less time fighting their activists.

John McLoughlin, one of ten members of the UNISON Local Government Service Group Executive to vote against going into further negotation on pensions, spoke in a personal capacity. He talked about how the switch from RPI to CPI not only affects public sector pensions, but private sector pensions and welfare benefits. The government want £3 billion over 3 years from our pensions in order to pay off the bankers deficit. We should give Fred Goodwin back his knighthood, and take his pension instead. John spoke about the claim that public sector workers must pay more for their pensions because people are living longer, but that this is not the case in working class areas, and that also if you retire later you die sooner, and if you retire earlier you live longer. Making people work longer makes no sense with high levels of youth unemployment. For John, UNISON is not out of the pensions dispute yet, and that if other unions took action that UNISON would support them. He concluded by talking about the BMA and RCN taking action in future, and that 30th November was a magnificent day because of the unity between trade unions.

One of the Unilever strikers from Burton on Trent said that workers can choose to strike or they can choose not to strike, but if they decide to strike they will at least have the dignity of knowing that they took action and did something.