Thursday, 20 February 2014

Support Services Contract - A Not So Short History

With the recent news that as part of North Somerset Council's Transformation Programme, they are looking to transfer more jobs and services into the £100 million, 10 year contract we've been looking back to our campaign to stop the privatisation of Support Services back in 2009 and 2010. So we thought as we didn't have the blog back then that it might make interesting reading for members now.

In April 2009, when the council were first looking to go down the outsourcing route we submitted a number of reports to the Executive, spoke at the meetings, and also commissioned a report from APSE. Our submission to the April Executive meeting slowed the process down, and forced them to bring another report to Executive in June. Here are our reports:

UNISON submission to Finance and Performance Policy and Scrutiny Panel, 20th April 2009

UNISON Report to Executive, 21st April 2009

UNISON Report to Executive, 9th June 2009

APSE Report on Support Services Outsourcing, June 2009

All the initial Council Reports are here:

Executive Report 28th October 2008:

Executive Report, 21st April 2009:

Executive Report, 9th June 2009:

Audit Committee, 20th April 2009 minutes:

We sent out a leaflet to all members and also covered the town hall in posters, and even had some support services privatisation mugs made. Here are the leaflet and posters:

Leaflet for Members - Quicker, Better, Cheaper

Poster - Quicker, Better, Cheaper In House

Poster - Slower, Worse, Dearer Privatised

We were also successful at getting the Executive decision called in to the Finance and Performance Policy and Scrutiny Panel on 2nd July 2009, and a UNISON Rep spoke at the panel - this slightly slowed down the process. The minutes are here:

During the procurement process UNISON were given the opportunity to make comments on all the bids - we cannot publish them here for reasons of commercial confidentiality.

As we ramped up our campaign in the final stages our access to information was shut down.

We wrote to councillors on a number of occasions and also provided them with the following documents:

Think Twice - The Role of Elected Members in Commissioning

Chapter 10 of Hilary Wainwright & Matthew Little - Public Service Reform But Not As We Know It

Insourcing: A Guide to bringing Local Authority Service back in house

We ran regular members meetings, as well as keeping members updated by letter.

We also issued regular press releases and got quite a bit of media coverage.

Audit Committee Report, 25th May 2010, which considered the Audit Commission's report on Support Services Contract:

We spoke at the Audit Committee on 27th July 2010, and submitted the following report:

UNISON submission on Support Services Contract for Audit Committee, 27th July 2010

The Audit Committee minutes are here:

Executive Report, 8th June 2010:

When the council met to award the contract on 5th August 2010 we spoke at the meeting and submitted the following report:

UNISON submission on Support Services Contract Award for Council Meeting on 5th August 2010

Council Report, 5th August 2010:

Letter to North Somerset councillors

We were successful in persuading opposition councillors to propose an amendment to slow the process down pending more scrutiny, but due to the massive Tory majority the contract was approved.

Minutes of the Council Meeting:

Since the contract was awarded and staff transferred to Agilisys we have not stopped our campaign.

One year into the contract we surveyed our members - those who had transferred and those that remained at the council - the results were published on this blog:

We pushed the council to undertake a review of the contract one year in - this is good practice. The council employed KPMG to do the review, but then kept their report secret. We pursued this report through Freedom of Information, finally getting the full detailed report in January 2014 - this has been published on this blog:

Now that the council are looking to transfer further services we have written to all councillors and our Chief Executive to express our concerns.

UNISON members will soon be receiving a special edition of our regular newsletter outlining what is likely to happen, why we still oppose the privatisation of support services and how they can get involved in our campaign. Watch this space for more details.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Union demands ‘end to secrecy’ after council report battle

Great article from Becky Parker in the Weston Mercury - here it is in full:

‘MISTRUST’ and ‘lost credibility’ – this is how North Somerset Council’s contract with service provider Agilisys is described in a report the authority refused to make public.

Unison, the union for council and schools staff, eventually won its battle for access to the critical report after a year-long fight.

Agilisys took over council services including IT, human resources, payroll, facilities management, procurement, the contact centre and revenues and benefits, in 2010.

A review was carried out into the contract in early 2012 by KPMG, an advisory accounting firm.

Unison has been using Freedom of Information requests to try to get hold of the report, but the council handed over only an edited summary.

The union took the case to the UK Information Commissioner who, after a six-month investigation, ordered North Somerset to hand over the document.

The release of the report comes as the council negotiates with Agilisys over extending the contract and transferring more council jobs and services.

Among the dozens of recommendations, KPMG stresses a need to prevent further negative service impacts and rebuild confidence and regain the trust of council staff.

The report says: “The council has seen a number of benefits, from the introduction of the partnership such as job creation and a greater focus on business change as well as reduced costs for services.

“However, the aspects of the partnership which have not worked well, such as the quality of some transactional services, have resulted in officer mistrust and a lack of contractor and client team credibility.”

One recommendation is ‘to ensure the council is accurately paying for what it is getting from the contractor and receiving value for money’.

The council expected the contract to make procurement savings of £5million by 2014/15, but in fact by 2012/13 it saved just £740,000.

KPMG said: “Procurement has been identified as an area within the scope of the partnership that has significantly failed to deliver against expectations.

“It is unclear whether this is a result of unrealistic and inaccurate expectations at the outset or poor delivery.

“The council lacks a clear overview of the partnership and its overall performance.

“Roles and responsibilities are blurred and people are not sure what should be covered where – this is inefficient.”

North Somerset Unison spokesman Helen Thornton said: “We are concerned about the amount of money wasted by the council trying to bury the report, as well as the unsuccessful attempt to pursue the Information Commissioner to prevent its publication.

“We will be demanding an end to the culture of secrecy that has grown up around this contract.

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

North Somerset Council says it regularly reviews the performance of the contract and all the targets are currently being met.

It said: “On the whole the review was really positive, and highlighted some early areas of success and achievement. It also acknowledged there were a much smaller number of areas which could be further strengthened, and since the report was written these have been fully addressed.

“Every year we ask staff about their overall levels of satisfaction with working for the council, and the latest results show these satisfaction levels are the highest they’ve been since before the partnership began.

“We are currently in discussion with Agilisys regarding the potential to increase the scale of the services it provides on behalf of the council, where this represents value for money.”

North Somerset Council set £11 million cuts budget, freeze council tax for the majority, but increase it for the poorest!

Here's a few photos from tonight's UNISON lobby of the council meeting - we were joined by Labour and Lib Dem councillors, as well as Green Party members.

Tonight North Somerset Council met to approve is budget for the forthcoming year and set its council tax. £11 million of cuts were on the agenda, including massive cuts to Adults and Children's Services, although School Crossing Patrols, Public and Community Transport and increases to meals on wheels charges were given a temporary reprieve.

Opposition councillors put forward amendments to the budget - all of which were voted down, including an amendment from Councillor Leimdorfer to mitigate the impact of the council's decision in January to increase the amount of council tax paid by low income working age residents from 22% to 24.5%. Councillor Bell supported the amendment and noted that the council tax freeze which North Somerset is accepting this year does not mean a council tax freeze for all residents, because those on the lowest incomes are having their council tax increased. Sadly there was no named vote on the amendments, but the budget itself was a named vote - only Labour, Lib Dem, and 2 Green and Independent councillors voted against the budget.

Questions were also asked, by Councillor Bell, about the Agilisys contract - he talked about the £39 million the council has paid to Agilisys since April 2011, that Agilisys have paid their shareholders a dividend of £7 million, and that the PWC report says the council is paying over the odds for some things. Councillor Leimdorfer asked for all councillors to be given a copy of the PWC report and a chance to debate it.

A UNISON Rep spoke at the meeting, and immediately afterwards rather than the stony faced silence that normally greets our speeches, Nigel Ashton, the Leader of the Council got up to comment on some things we'd said about the £3 million increase in reserves and using £1.4 million of them for a capital project. He was then followed by Executive member Tony Lake who wanted to make a statement on the council's refusal to pay the Living Wage. Councillor Bell then got up in our defence to tell the meeting that it is not usual practice after a public participation speaker for councillors to get up and argue against them. He's right but actually we felt quite flattered, because what we said obviously really riled them.

Here's the speech that did it:

The most striking thing for us about the medium term financial plan is the increase in your reserves, which are now projected to be £11.6 million at 31st March 2014 - that's an increase of £3 million since last year, and £3.6 million above your approved level of £8 million. This updated MTFP came only a few weeks after you decided that you could not implement the Living Wage for council and schools staff on the grounds of affordability. Bringing staff up to the Living Wage would cost £435,000 - in light of the increase in reserves, along with the at least £2 million in your contingency and transition fund which is underspent every year, this now seems very affordable indeed.

We are pleased that some of the cuts you had planned, such as School Crossing Patrols, have been granted a temporary reprieve. But we find it difficult to understand why you would take £1.4 million from your reserves for a capital project - the ICT Transformation programme, when you could be using those same reserves to mitigate some of the worst of the cuts you are proposing. You are also planning to accept the council tax freeze grant, or bribe as we like to call it, when the Audit Commission's recent report Tough Times 2013 has shown that those councils who have accepted freeze grants over the last few years have seen their incomes fall. And you are a council that has £8 million less in your base budget because of below the cap council tax increases over a number of years. And yet you are also arguing that you cannot use reserves for services because you have a further £22 million of cuts to make over the next few years and every penny is required. This all seems like a contradiction in terms.

It is also then particularly galling that the negotiations with Agilisys, regarding the transfer of more jobs and services into this contract, have apparently been prompted by Price Waterhouse Cooper's report, which according to a recent article in the Weston Mercury stated that "the Agilisys contract may not be economically viable in the future and will require renegotiation or expansion". In addition the council's reason for not releasing the full detailed KPMG report on the contract was because it would harm the commercial interests of Agilisys, who were bidding for contracts elsewhere at the time. We would like to ask councillors if they think it is the council's job to protect the commercial interests of Agilisys, or if like us they think that the council's job is to protect the interests of the residents of North Somerset and ensure they get value for money? It was and still is UNISON's view that a properly resourced in house service improvement plan would have shown you at the time and will show you now that support services could be provided quicker, better and cheaper in house, and that this would also give councillors more control over those services.

Your budget includes another 50 full-time job cuts in 2014. This comes on top of 300 full-time jobs gone over the last 3 years, but affecting many more people because so many of your staff work part-time. The budget papers also include yet to be confirmed numbers of job losses for future years, in part as a result of the PWC recommendations. The Audit Commission has shown that almost half of the cuts made by councils have been staff cuts - job losses, changes to terms and conditions, and the 3 year pay freeze broken by a below inflation 1% pay increase. Your staff cannot take any more, and if you want them to truly play their part in the recently announced Transformation Programme then you need to agree to no compulsory redundancies, and no further privatisation of services.

In our written submission to you we have asked you to debate and support a motion on the local government pay claim for 2014, which is based on bringing the lowest level of pay up to the living wage of £7.65 an hour, with an equivalent increase for all other scale points. UNISON research has shown that over half the cost of the local government pay claim can be met by increased tax and national insurance contributions, as well as decreased benefit payments. And of course we now know that your increased levels of reserves, year on year underspends on staff salaries, and savings to the staff pay bill made by redundancies means that our pay claim is easily affordable for you. In addition, while speaking on the recent flooding crisis David Cameron has said that "money is no object", while according to Eric Pickles "we are a very rich country" - both confirming what we've known all along - that the cuts to public spending have not been necessary. We urge you to debate the motion, support the local government pay claim for 2014, pay the living wage and encourage employers across North Somerset to follow your example.

Demonstration against ATOS and Work Capability Assessments on 19th February

Monday, 17 February 2014

North Somerset Council reserves shoot up to £11.6 million but they still cannot afford to pay the Living Wage!

The following press release will be issued tomorrow:

North Somerset UNISON, which represents staff working at North Somerset Council and in Schools across the district has reacted with dismay at the news that the council's reserves have shot up over the last year by £3 million, while at the same time the council continue to make massive cuts and have also refused to pay staff the living wage for financial reasons. When we read the council's latest budget papers the most striking thing for us was the increase in the levels of council reserves - a £3 million increase over the course of the year and £3.6 million above their approved level of £8 million. The council's reserves are effectively like an individual's savings - they are there to protect them against unexpected expenditure. Every year the council's Chief Financial Officer agrees a prudential level of reserves for exactly that reason - currently it's £8 million. But on top of that over the last few years the council have created what they call a contingency and transition fund in case the cuts they have proposed prove unworkable - this is about £2 million - but year on year they haven't needed to spend it. As a result we think they've got about £5 million effectively sat there doing nothing, which could instead be used to protect services at a time when they are making massive cuts - £50 million over the last 3 years.

The council are giving various reasons why they cannot use their reserves for services, but we think people need to understand that the council's reserves have increased in part because of underspending on services. It is also our view that the council's arguments are contradictory to say the least. For instance, the council seem quite happy to take £1.4 million of their reserves to spend on capital projects, such as the ICT Transformation programme, when actually this is precisely the sort of project that they could borrow money for. At the same time they are arguing that they cannot use reserves for services this year because there is still another £22 million of cuts which will need to be made over the next few years, and that every penny is required. They are also planning to accept the 1% council tax freeze grant, or bribe as we like to call it, this year, when the Audit Commission's recent report Tough Times 2013 has shown that those councils who have accepted freeze grants over the last few years have seen their incomes fall. And this is from a council whose successive below the cap council tax increases over a number of years have resulted in £8 million less in their base budget. They are also spending £100,000 on a consultant to help them get value for money in renegotiating the £100 million Support Services contract with Agilisys, rather than using that money to create an in-house service improvement plan to act as a comparator to the Agilisys offer, and thereby show the council whether in fact this contract is providing value for money, or rather as we suspect costing the council over the odds.

As far as paying the Living Wage goes, it was only just under a month ago that the Council's Living Wage working group presented its report with the recommendation not to implement the Living Wage for financial reasons - the cost of £435,000 was considered too great. We now know that implementing the Living Wage is easily affordable for the council because they have all that extra money in their reserves. In addition over the last 4 years, while council workers have been subject to a 3 year pay freeze broken by a 1% pay increase, the council have underspent on their budget for staff salaries by £3 million - £1 million of that in the last year alone. UNISON has estimated that over that period local government workers have lost 18% of their pay, because of high levels of inflation. Workloads have increased so that council workers are now doing more for less. The lowest rate of local government pay is currently £6.45 an hour, only a few pence above the national minimum wage. 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 instead 1000 workers - 20% of the workforce - at North Somerset Council and in North Somerset Schools earn less than the living wage of £7.65 an hour - these workers are mainly women - they are our School Crossing Patrols, School Lunchbreak Supervisors, Cleaners, Passenger Assistants, and Mobile Meals Helpers. These workers really deserve to be paid the Living Wage, which after all is simply the minimum income needed to provide the basics - we're not talking luxury living here.

It is also UNISON's view that the council, as the largest local employer, needs to be leading by example.  If the council paid its staff the living wage, it would be in a good position to encourage council contractors and employers across North Somerset to pay their staff the living wage, with the consequent benefits not just for the individuals concerned, but also for the local economy in terms of increased spending in local businesses, and ultimately increased business rates for the council. Almost a quarter of all workers living in North Somerset earn less than the Living Wage - we are quite simply a low wage economy and this has a serious impact on the businesses operating in the area. In addition all those workers earning below the living wage, including local government workers, are also 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 should also mean less or no need for cuts to local government funding. In fact it has been very interesting that over the last few weeks as the flooding crisis has worsened that both the Prime Minister David Cameron, and the Secretary of State for Local Government Eric Pickles have both made remarks indicating that money is no object and that we are a rich country - in fact we are the seventh richest country in the world. This indicates to us that the massive cuts to local government funding are, if they ever were, no longer necessary.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

North Somerset Council is criticised for keeping a report about a multi-million pound contract secret - media coverage

Hear the story on BBC Radio Bristol at this link: - Nigel Dando's Report is 30 minutes in, UNISON are 38 minutes in, and North Somerset Councillor Tony Lake is 1 hour 30 minutes in.

The story is also covered on the BBC website:

Sunday, 9 February 2014

£100 million Support Services Contract Report finally released to UNISON

The following has been issued as a press release:


Since October 2012 UNISON has been using Freedom of Information (FOI) requests in order to see a report on the review of North Somerset Council's £100 million, ten year Support Services contract with Agilisys. The contract was originally awarded in October 2010 and involved Agilisys (with sub-contractor Liberata) providing council services including ICT, Human Resources, Payroll, Facilities Management, Procurement, the Council's Contact Centre, and Revenues and Benefits. At the time UNISON opposed the contract and challenged the Council's claim that it would result in improved services and better value for money. It was also UNISON that pressed the council to undertake the review one year into the contract - this is good practice for contracts of this size in order to ensure that they are performing at the required level and providing value for money for council tax payers.

The review was undertaken by management consultants KPMG in December 2011, and their report was presented to the Council in April 2012, but it was not made public. Following a request by UNISON under the Freedom of Information Act in November 2012 the Council eventually released a copy of a ‘Final Summary Report’ of the review, with a section blacked out or redacted. 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 the full report! After more FOI requests to the Council, in June 2013 a complaint was lodged with the UK’s Information Commissioner using the Freedom of Information Act.

In January 2014, after an investigation lasting over six months the Information Commissioner has concluded that a more detailed report does in fact exist and ordered the Council to hand it over. It also ordered the Council to disclose the contents of a paragraph in the summary report that had 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.

UNISON has now been provided with the unredacted version of the Final Summary Report, as well as the Final Detailed Report. The redacted text was from page 3 of the Final Summary Report, which was effectively KPMG's findings in brief. The paragraph began with: "The Council has seen a number of benefits from the introduction of the Support Services Partnership (SSP) such as job creation and a greater focus on business change, as well as reduced costs for support services." The Council then blacked out the following two sentences: "However, the aspects of the partnership that have not worked well, such as the quality of some transactional services, have resulted in officer mistrust and a lack of contractor and client team credibility. This mistrust is based on experience of the transactional services delivered, and on the perception that the SSP is underperforming more widely because only the client team and contractors have a clear understanding of what the contract was set out to deliver."

The differences between the Final Summary Report and the Final Detailed Report, whose existence the council denied, are minimal in terms of length - the Summary is 15 pages long, whereas the Detailed Report is 22 pages. But the differences in content are significant and may point to the reasons the Council denied the report's existence. The differences are KPMG's comments and recommendations on Leadership, Governance and Flexibility which are in the Detailed Report, but not the Summary Report.

It is very worrying for us that the Council and Agilisys have spent well over a year refusing to publish concerns outlined in the report about the poor quality of some services, inadequate contract management, failure to report on all Key Performance Indicators, using the wrong performance measures, failure to make promised procurement savings, and potential issues with correctly calculating so-called variable payments - that is payments for additional services. All of these issues mean that this contract may not be providing value for money for the council and council tax payers. We are also concerned about the amount of money that has been wasted by the council trying to bury the report, as well as their unsuccessful attempt to pursue the Information Commissioner to prevent its publication. The KPMG report itself adds further weight to the argument that (at the time) the contract was not performing satisfactorily and not delivering the value for money promised. Because of the amount of time that has passed between the Council receiving the report and it being ordered to make the report public  - almost 2 years - the Council are now claiming that any criticisms of the contract identified by KPMG have been addressed, and obviously UNISON is pleased that this has happened.  But we still have concerns on the following recent statements by the council:

· Numbers of jobs created by Agilisys, without the contract specifying what "job" actually means, i.e. is it full or part-time, is it skilled and well paid or low paid, and with no recognition of the numbers of redundancies Agilisys have also made.

· High levels of satisfaction with working for the council revealed by this year's staff survey, without any recognition of the fact that this is still well down on the all time high recorded in 2006, and current high levels of staff dissatisfaction with office environment, hot desks, and ICT - all of which are part of the Agilisys led Office Amalgamation programme.

· Agilisys' apparent failure to take into account Health and Safety requirements in the new Town Hall Gateway and the resulting increased workload for council staff.

The release of the KPMG report now quite by coincidence  comes at a time when the council themselves are in negotiations with Agilisys to extend the Support Services contract and transfer more council jobs and services to Agilisys. These negotiations seem to have been prompted by a recent report undertaken by Price Waterhouse Cooper, who were commissioned by the Council to help them make further savings as a result of government funding cuts. In our view these negotiations are being hurried, with a report going to the Executive meeting on 15th April, and then the renegotiated contract being approved at a Council meeting on 6th May. The council have hired a consultant to help with the negotiations with Agilisys at a cost of £100,000. But to our knowledge the council have no in-house service improvement plan to act as a comparator, and neither are they going through a competitive bidding process to see what other organisations could provide. This means the council cannot be sure that they are getting value for money from Agilisys. In fact without all this information Agilisys can pretty much name their price. This also runs the risk of wasting more money and costing much needed jobs.

North Somerset UNISON has written to all North Somerset councillors outlining our concerns about the Agilisys contract. We will also be demanding an end to the culture of secrecy that has grown up around this contract. A culture that has resulted in the Council denying the existence of a Report and not even sharing it with councillors. In fact one councillor has told us that if it wasn't for UNISON's perseverance in getting this report through freedom of information, councillors themselves would never have seen it. We will also be requesting that all papers in connection with the renegotiated contract are made publicly available before any decision is taken on transferring more jobs and services to Agilisys. These documents include the business case which Agilisys has produced arguing why they should take on more council services.

Unless the Council is completely open and commits itself to a continuing and frequent process of independent reports there is a real fear that the Agilisys contract will become another expensive contract failure all too familiar in local government. It is our view 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.

All the KPMG Reports

KPMG Final Summary Report redacted version

KPMG Final Summary Report unredacted version

KPMG Final Detailed Report

North Somerset Council Response to the KPMG Report

The Information Commissioner's Decisions can be found at the following links:

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

North Somerset UNISON Submission on Budget Proposals

North Somerset UNISON's submission on North Somerset Council's Budget proposals can be downloaded here

This was submitted to all councillors this morning. The Executive met this afternoon and have made some positive amendments to proposals to cuts to School Crossing Patrols, Support Public and Community Transport and increasing the cost of community meals - putting money back into the budget for one year.

The most striking thing about the latest budget documents is how much the council's reserves have increased. They now stand at £11.6 million, when their approved level is £8 million. Since 2010/11 the council's reserves have increased by 84%. On top of this they have £2 million in a contingency and transition fund, making a total of £13.6 million which is effectively sat in their bank account doing nothing. This makes their recent decision not to implement the living wage on the grounds of affordability rather strange to us. It also means they have at least £5 million which they can use to protect services, and still keep their prudential level of reserves.

The latest council budget document can be downloaded here

The following was issued as a press release this morning:

North Somerset UNISON, which represents workers at North Somerset Council and Schools across the district is calling on the council to make no further cuts to jobs and services. The council have made £50 million of cuts over the past 3 years, and are proposing another £11 million of cuts for the forthcoming year. We have already seen the council increase the amount of council tax that now has to be paid by residents on low incomes. They are now proposing further cuts to services for some of our most vulnerable residents, particularly older people, disabled people and children. These cuts include reductions to adult care and supporting people services, increasing charges for meals on wheels, and reductions in public and community transport. The cuts also include 50 full-time job losses, including our School Crossing Patrols. These figures seems a relatively small number compared to previous years, but it must be remembered that these job losses come on top of about 400 job losses (a quarter of the council's workforce) over the last 3 years. There are also job losses which are to be confirmed for the years from 2015/16 and beyond. In addition the council are also looking at transferring more council jobs and services to the private company Agilisys, despite a report on this contract by the management consultants KPMG, which was highly critical of the £100 million contract - a report which the council tried to keep secret.

But it is not only council jobs that will be lost as a result of the cuts. The council contracts with many private and voluntary sector providers, particularly for services for older people and disabled people. As the council tries to cut costs for these contracts, private companies and voluntary sector organisations will inevitably cut either their numbers of staff, or the pay of their staff, and services will suffer as a result.

It is our view that the council's cuts are having a serious impact on the local economy. And that although we are being told that the economic recovery is underway, it is not being felt by ordinary people, including many residents of North Somerset.  Whether you work in the private or public sector, ordinary working people have not had a decent pay rise over the last few years, while prices for essentials such as food, energy and fuel have rocketed. In addition people who are claiming benefits, including in work benefits, have seen benefit increases capped at 1% - well below the level of inflation. Because wages and benefits haven't kept up with prices, people have less money to spend in the local economy.  Because people are spending less, local businesses are earning less, and this creates a vicious circle - where everyone is spending less and earning less and then spending less and earning less ad infinitum. This is one of the many reasons we have also been campaigning for the council to pay their staff the living wage, and encourage employers across the district to do the same. Many economists are now saying that the recovery will not be sustainable unless we see wage increases.

We are also being told that jobs are being created and unemployment is falling nationally. But the jobs that are being created are low paid and part-time jobs, and nowhere is this more evident than in North Somerset, where a quarter of working age residents earn less than the living wage, including many council and schools staff. Unemployment rates are also falling in part because people are taking part-time work when they really need full-time jobs, or declaring themselves self-employed, or being reassessed back onto health related benefits because of the failure of the DWP's fit for work assessment. And we still see relatively high levels of unemployment in the most deprived areas of North Somerset, particularly in wards in Weston super Mare such as South, Central, and West, which all have claimant counts above the national average. The unemployment rate in Weston super Mare is much higher than for the rest of North Somerset. And the South West is the only area in the country where the latest figures show unemployment is actually on the increase.

As in previous years North Somerset UNISON has responded to the consultation on the council's budget proposals and we will also lobby councillors at their budget setting meeting on 18th February from 5.30 pm outside the Town Hall in Weston super Mare. We urge all concerned residents of North Somerset to join us.

North Somerset Council workers gave George Osborne a mouthful today

North Somerset UNISON Reps ran Pay information stalls at Castlewood and the Town Hall today. Over 100 North Somerset Council workers wrote postcards which will be sent to George Osborne telling him why public sector workers need a decent pay rise this year.

Sign the Petition to stop the removal of Trade Union Facility Time at Barnet Council

Please sign the petition to stop the removal of trade union facility time at Barnet Council. What is happening in Barnet could happen here in North Somerset as well, so we must do all we can to help our brothers and sisters in Barnet.

You can view the petition video here:

Sign the petition here:

Below is a transcript of comment made by Barnet Conservative Councillor Robert Rams speaking at Budget Scrutiny 26.11.2013.

The Video clip can be viewed here

This is what he had to say about the cut to Facility Time (by the way we have been informed his full time job is a political post in the Greater London Authority (GLA).)

“ I come from a completely different standpoint on this I think that they should be able to do their job without any funding whatsoever ....I think there are lots of examples of councils, authorities across London across the country that provide no funding for activity and I believe we should be moving to a model were we don’t provide any funding for union activity, I think as I stated before if we are looking to make cuts out there, there are some difficult decisions, I think it is clear area  we can make even more savings, the proposals provide a generous amount of funding, over generous in my personal view towards the service I think as we go forward and tougher decisions are made we will get to the point where we will remove all funding............................

I don’t think the work they do needs to be funded by us, they do some excellent work and as I said they are some other authorities I organisations across London, but trade unions provide an excellent service to their members by no means do I denigrate their work the unions do, they provide an excellent service to their members..........I think there is enough ability for them to do it whilst carrying on doing their work for the council”