Tuesday, 17 February 2015

UNISON Lobby of Council Budget Meeting 17th February 2015

North Somerset UNISON members, including members working in Libraries and the START team lobbied North Somerset Council as they met to set their budget for the forthcoming year - £15 million of cuts, including cuts to overtime and unsocial hours payments for staff.

Opposition councillors proposed 4 amendments to mitigate the impact of the cuts, including stopping the cuts to Community Meals, START and Pay enhancements for staff, as well as paying the Living Wage, but the massive Tory majority ensured the budget got voted through.

Green Party Councilor Leimdorfer praised the START team saying they have received 270 compliments and only 1 complaint from service users, whereas the private sector had received a couple of dozen compliments and a similar number of complaints. Councillor Leimdorfer gets the award for quote of the night when he said: "START is where privatisation should  stop". He talked about double standards - the principle of full cost recovery which is being applied to Community Meals charges is not being applied to collecting large numbers of green bags from big houses. That Local government is supposed to promote the common good and provide services for the vulnerable. Councillor Leimdorfer also suggested that the £157,000 which had recently been added to the Contingency budget could be used to pay for enhancments.

Tory Executive member Tony Lake confirmed that the cuts to enhancements are not just about bringing North Somerset in line with other local authorities, but about bringing us in line with the private sector (and of course this will help them when they outsource START)

Independent councillor Donald Davies talked about the £1.8 million underspend which could be used to finance the opposition budget amendments. He also said that the cuts to enhancements are a race to the bottom, and that Tory councillors obviously had no experience of industry, where workers are paid extra for working nights. He said staff have worked hard in difficult times, and the proposal to cut enhancements is just nasty, and typical of the Tories.

Labour councillor Ian Parker read out an email he'd received from a staff member about the impact of cuts to enhancements. Labour councillor Richard Tucker talked about the erosion of terms and conditions over the last 30 years, and suggested the cuts to enhancements be postponed until after the election.

Lib Dem councillor Mike Bell also spoke against the cuts to enhancements and asked councillors present to think about what sort of jobs staff getting enhancements do.

UNISON members should note that the amendment concerning protecting pay enhancements was pretty much unanimously voted against by the Tory majority, and for by Green, all Labour, some Independents, and Lib Dem councillor Deborah Yamanaka. The forthcoming local elections are a good opportunity for UNISON members to show their displeasure with those councillors who have voted for the cuts to enhancements - so don't vote Tory.

Opposition parties voted against recommendations 1 and 2 of the Council Report approving the budget, while the Tories voted for it. The report can be found at this link: http://apps.n-somerset.gov.uk/cairo/docs/doc26475.pdf. In addition Labour councillors voted against recommendations 3-6 of the report (concerning council tax setting), while Tory, Green, Independent and Lib Dem voted for.

A UNISON Rep spoke at the council meeting - here's ours speech:

We have submitted a paper ahead of the meeting, which I hope you have had time to read and consider. We are in danger of repeating ourselves year after year, but again we are urging councillors to question whether the levels of reserves are strictly necessary. This year on top of £8 million in general reserves, you have a £2 million contingency reserve (which has been massively underspent over the last few years), and the recent review of earmarked reserves has created  a new £2 million redundancy reserve, a £1.38m capacity fund for transformation reserve, plus a new £3.1 million transformation projects reserve for Agilisys led digital transformation projects which are likely to lead to many more job losses. This is a total of £8 million which could be invested in services, but instead is being invested in privatisations and redundancies.

Again this year we are urging councillors to pay your staff the Living Wage, and to ensure that schools across the district pay the Living Wage. Councillors may be interested to know that over half the Primary Schools in North Somerset are either Church of England, Catholic or Co-Operative, and all have signed national agreements with UNISON to implement the Living Wage. The benefits of paying the Living Wage to both employers and the local economy are well-known, and are supported by all political parties.

In our view this year's budget is yet another attack on the staff who have kept council services running despite the cuts. The budget proposals include the loss of 21 full-time equivalent jobs, including School Crossing Patrols, along with the transfer of 150 staff to Agilisys and Liberata (at least 30 of whom will face redundancy as Agilisys transform services), the proposed transfer to the private sector of 85 staff (mainly women) in the START reablement team, 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 fewer managers, as well as the loss of admin staff, who will soon be sitting in the centralised Agilisys hubs, making it highly likely that the remaining council staff will be doing their own admin. We are now very worried that services are likely to fail.

Over the last 5 years your staff have seen their pay fall in real terms - UNISON has estimated that local government workers have lost about 20% of their pay. The recently concluded 2.2% cost of living increase over 2 years is the first close to inflation pay rise for 4 years - and that's only the case because inflation has fallen so low. Councillors will be aware that this year's staff survey shows that levels of satisfaction with working for the council have dropped by 6%, while levels of dissatisfaction have increased by 11%. And only a quarter of staff said they would speak highly about the council as an employer. As the economic situation is improving, UNISON members are reporting that more and more of their colleagues are leaving to go and work elsewhere.

So given all of this, and on top of 400 job cuts over the last 4 years, it is a real kick in the teeth for staff to find out 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. 400 staff, or a quarter of the council's workforce, will be affected by these cuts to pay, and in some cases (particularly for part-time workers) 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 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 the Dolphin Square development the council is losing income of £20,000 per month from Carlton Street car park - it now looks very much to us like council staff are paying for this lost income.

We think that the removal and reduction of pay enhancements will have a huge impact on already low staff morale, as well as on recruitment and retention. Councillors will be interested to know that the proposed cuts to enhancements, in most cases, take our rates below the rates paid by the other West of England authorities. In combination with our lower levels of basic pay, this will create major problems for the council in recruiting. 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.

We are asking councillors to seriously consider whether the cuts to enhancements, which aim to save a relatively small amount of money for the council, are worth the risk of further damage to the council's relationship with your staff.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent speech Helen. As usual we win the moral argument, but sadly it doesn't count for much