Wednesday, 29 January 2014

No More Cuts to Jobs and Services - UNISON lobby of North Somerset Council Budget Meeting - 18th February

Join the demonstration at North Somerset Council's Budget Meeting

18th February at 5.30 pm

Town Hall, Weston super Mare

The council will meet to approve their budget for the forthcoming year, which includes £11 million of cuts to services affecting some of our most vulnerable residents. The proposed cuts include:
  • Cuts to funding for Children in Care
  • Cuts to funding for Disabled Children
  • Reductions to Adult Care and Supporting People services
  • 50 Full-time Job losses
  • More jobs and services transferred to private contractor Agilisys
The council's reserves have shot up to £11.6 million but they say they can't afford to pay the Living Wage, which would cost them £435,000.

Meet outside the Town Hall in Weston at 5.30 pm

Let's show the councillors what we think.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Day of protest: speaking out for decent pay, jobs and services in local government on 4th February

North Somerset UNISON will be running information stalls for members and non members on 4th February to highlight the impact of central government cuts on local government pay, jobs and services. Here in North Somerset the council have only just this week announced what they call a Transformation Programme, but from what we can see it is likely to result in further job losses and privatisations, including giving more work to the already failing Support Services contractor. Also just this week North Somerset Council's Living Wage working group concluded that although they support the living wage in principle they will not implement it locally. On 18th February the council will meet to vote through this year's cuts which include 50 full time job losses, on top of 400 jobs gone since 2010. The cuts to jobs include our School Crossing Patrols.

UNISON members can come along to collect one of our much prized and limited edition North Somerset UNISON piggy banks, as well as lots of information about what they can do to get involved in our campaign to save jobs and services, and ensure we all get a decent pay rise this year.

These information stalls will take place at:

4th February, 12 - 2 pm in the canteen at Castlewood

4th February, 12 - 2 pm at the staff entrance at the Town Hall

North Somerset UNISON will also hold a demonstration at the council's budget setting meeting on 18th February at 5.30 pm outside the town hall in Weston.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

North Somerset Council's Living Wage Working Group Report

The recommendations of the Living Wage working group, which were voted through at yesterday's Community and Corporate Organisation Policy and Scrutiny Panel were:

1. North Somerset Council does not adopt a policy for payment of the Living Wage for schools and non-school staff at this time, for the reasons as detailed within this report;

2. A letter of correspondence should be sent to the appropriate Minister, to include North Somerset MPs, highlighting the following national concerns identified by the Working Group:

a) That the current moves by Central Government towards introducing non-taxation for all minimum wage payments be applauded, and encouragement given for this to be addressed as expediently as possible;

b) That the discrepancy of the legal minimum wage being set at a lower rate than the voluntary living wage should be addressed at a national level;

c) That further investigation should be undertaken at a national level as to evidencing that the Living Wage is set at the correct rate (whilst it is acknowledged to be an average calculation for areas outside London);

d) That the current method of grant funding allocation from Central Government places North Somerset at a financial disadvantage and that if North Somerset was in receipt of its fair funding allocation then it would be in a better position to consider the living wage.

3. That the Living Wage be placed on the Panel’s Work Plan with a view to revisiting the issue in approximately two years’ time or when the national agenda and financial position improves, whichever is the sooner.

The full report and appendices can be downloaded at the following link:

UNISON will be sent copies of all correspondence between the council and relevant ministers and MPs, which we will post on this blog.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

North Somerset Council ordered by UK's Information Commissioner to hand over secret report

In October 2010 North Somerset Council awarded a controversial 10 year contract worth over £100 million to private contractor Agilisys to run the Council's support services.

UNISON opposed the contract and challenged the Council's claim that it would result in improved services and better value for money.

In December 2011, following repeated requests by UNISON, the Council appointed management consultants KPMG to review the contract. The review was completed in April 2012.

However despite the size of the contract and its importance, the Council kept KPMGs report secret.

Following a request under the Freedom of Information Act in November 2012 the Council eventually released a copy of a ‘Final Summary Report’ of the review. When we asked the Council to publish the more detailed report that the summary was obviously based on, it refused claiming that no such report existed.

In fact the Council said the ‘final summary report’ was in fact the full report!

As a result a complaint was lodged with the UK’s Information Commissioner using the Freedom of Information Act.

In January, after an investigation lasting over six months the Information Commissioner has concluded that a more detailed report does in fact exist and has ordered the Council to hand it over. It also ordered the Council to disclose the contents of a paragraph in the summary report that has been blacked out because the Council and Agilisys said it could harm the commercial interests of Agilisys if published. At the time Agilisys was bidding for another contract elsewhere.

We don’t yet know what’s in the secret report that the Council has been hiding. Or the nature of the criticisms that the Council blacked out following discussions with Agilisys.

What we do know is that these huge contracts rarely deliver the benefits promised. And the secrecy that surrounds them makes it very difficult to hold to account the councillors and senior managers who promote them.

As for the Agilisys contract, UNISON is more convinced than ever that it was a big mistake and one we will be paying for, for years to come.

The Summary Report with redactions is available here

We will publish unredacted versions of both the Summary and Detailed reports when we receive them.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

No Living Wage for North Somerset Council and Schools Staff

This was issued as a press release today:

North Somerset UNISON, which represents workers at North Somerset Council and Schools across the district is very disappointed that the council will not implement the living wage for all council and schools staff. In February last year we asked the council to set up a working group to look at the costs and benefits of paying the living wage to council and schools staff, and we were pleased that they agreed to our request. A Living Wage working group was established and met for the first time over the summer last year, and then a few times after that. The working group has recently produced a report which will be considered by the council's Community and Corporate Organisation Policy & Scrutiny Panel on 21st January. Very sadly although the working group has recognised the moral case for paying the living wage it has recommended that it is not implemented at the present time for financial reasons.

We recognise the difficult financial position that the council faces at this current time - local government funding has been slashed, although budgets for schools have been relatively protected. But the lowest rate of Local Government and Schools pay is currently £6.45 an hour - only pence above the National Minimum Wage - currently £6.31 an hour. If local government pay had just kept up with inflation since 2010, those at the bottom of the pay scale would now be earning £7.53 an hour - just a few pence below the current living wage of £7.65 an hour. But local government workers had their pay frozen for three years from 2010, broken by a 1% pay increase in the current year. There are currently 785 permanent and 259 casual North Somerset Council and Schools staff who earn below the Living Wage - this is almost 20% of the council and schools entire workforce, the vast majority of whom are women. This should be a huge source of shame to North Somerset Council. These workers are our School Crossing Patrols, School Lunchbreak Supervisors, Cleaners, Passenger Assistants, and Mobile Meals Helpers. All those workers earning below the living wage, including local government workers, are relying on tax credits and other benefits to supplement their income. Increasing their pay to the living wage results in savings to the benefits bill, as well as increased National Insurance contributions and taxes. Increased money coming into the Treasury would potentially mean less cuts to local government funding. We are the seventh richest country in the world, and yet low pay is such a big issue that of all the children living in poverty, over half of them live in working households. Increasing wages should therefore be of great interest to North Somerset Schools and Children's Services.

It is UNISON's view that increasing the wages of the lowest paid council and schools' workers is affordable. Every year since 2010 North Somerset Council has put more and more money into its reserves - they have increased from £6.3 million to a predicted £9.1 million at the end of March 2014. At the same time - between 2010 and 2013 - North Somerset Council has also underspent on its budget for staff salaries by £2.5 million and this money has been added to the council’s reserves. In comparison the cost of raising the pay of those council and schools workers who earn below the living wage would be £435,000 - this is most definitely affordable. In addition if the council paid its staff the living wage, it would be in a good position to encourage employers across North Somerset to pay their staff the living wage, with the consequent benefits for the local economy in terms of increased spending in local businesses, and ultimately increased business rates for the council. Nationally, parties of all political colours are looking at significantly increasing the National Minimum Wage. Even John Cridland, the Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry has called for an increase to the minimum wage, and the Low Pay Commission will make its recommendations on raising the minimum wage next month – possibly bringing it close to the £7 an hour mark. As a result we think that the council and schools will find themselves increasingly in a position where they will be forced to increase wages for the lowest paid staff. It is a great sadness to us that they have had an opportunity to do this voluntarily through the Living Wage working group, but have chosen not to pay the living wage, which after all is simply the minimum income people need in order to provide for basics such as food, clothes and shelter.

The full report and 3 Appendices for the Living Wage Working group can be found at: