Sunday, 8 February 2015
Stop the War on Workers at North Somerset Council
This years budget is another attack on the staff who have kept council services running despite the cuts. This year's budget proposals include the loss of 21 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs, along with the transfer of 150 staff (120 FTEs) to Agilisys and Liberata on 31st January 2015 (30 of whom will face redundancy as Agilisys transform services), the proposed transfer of 52 FTEs in the START reablement team to the private sector, the loss of 10 to 15 management posts, as well as unspecified staff reductions in Property & Asset Management, Legal & Democratic Services, Human Resources and Training departments across the council. Council staff that avoid the cull will see their workloads increase even further as a result of less managers, and Admin staff separated from their teams and transferred into centralised Agilisys hubs, making it highly likely that the remaining staff will be doing their own admin. In our opinion the timing of the transfer of Admin staff, along with the roll out of the ICT transformation, and the implementation of the Social Care Act, is very likely to lead to service failure.
Over the last 5 years council staff have seen their pay fall in real terms - UNISON have estimated that local government staff have lost about 20% of their pay through a 3 year pay freeze (2010/11 - 2012/13), followed by a below inflation 1% increase for 2013/14. The recently concluded 2.2% pay increase over the 2 years up to 31st March 2016 is the first close to inflation pay rise for 4 years - and that's only the case because inflation has fallen so low. Over the last 5 years the council has underspent on its budget for staff salaries by just over £4 million - this money has been put into the council's reserves. Every year the council undertake a staff survey. This year levels of satisfaction with working for the council have dropped by 6%, while levels of dissatisfaction have increased by 11%. Only a quarter of staff said they would speak highly about the council as an employer. In addition over the last year the council has seen a number of senior officers leave, and UNISON members are reporting that more and more of their colleagues are leaving to go and work elsewhere. In our view, if the council is not careful, it will find that many more of its experienced staff will move on to other employers, and it will also find it difficult to recruit new staff.
So given the results of the staff survey and on top of 400 job cuts over the last 5 years, and the real terms cuts in pay, it is beyond belief that the council is now proposing to remove and reduce pay enhancements or the extra payments it makes to staff working overtime and unsocial hours. These payments will be reduced to a point where the council will not make extra payments to staff who work overtime, evenings, nights, and weekends, or who are on call and on standby at times which are outside their normal working hours. 400 staff, or a quarter of the council's workforce, will be affected by these cuts to pay, and in some cases they could lose between 10 and 20% of their monthly wage packet. Those affected include staff working in Libraries, Home Care, Community Meals, CCTV, Parking, Social Workers, and Area Officers. The council are arguing that these reductions are necessary because of the current financial situation, to avoid redundancies and because our levels of enhancements are apparently higher than in two thirds of other local authorities. The cuts to pay enhancements are designed to save the council £200,000 over 2 years. It is therefore interesting to note that because of the delays to Dolphin Square development the council is losing income of £20,000 per month from Carlton Street car park - it now looks to us like council staff are paying for this lost income. In addition, although the council claim that accepting a reduction in enhancements will mean less need for redundancies the council has created a £5.35 million ear-marked reserve to pay for £3 million of so-called transformation projects, including digital transformation (leading to job losses), and also to pay for £2 million of redundancies.
We think that the impact of the proposed reductions on already low staff morale, as well as on recruitment and retention, will be huge. We also think that the council will need to ensure that the combination of our lower rates of basic pay plus levels of enhancements, do not make North Somerset an unattractive place to work, in comparison to the rates of basic pay and enhancements paid by neighbouring authorities - otherwise they will find it difficult to recruit. In our view these proposals will also impact on services, as the council may find staff unwilling to work overtime, unsocial hours, or spend their free time on call out and standby if they are not paid adequately. It will also make it difficult for the council to cover annual leave and sickness, and as a result may lead to services such as libraries closing. On the 17th February we will be asking our employers - North Somerset councillors - to put a stop to the proposal to reduce pay enhancements and to stop the war on workers at North Somerset Council.
Download UNISON's Submission on Budget 2015