Monday, 28 June 2010

End of this blog, but a new one starts

Back in July 2009 we set up this blog the major area of the public services that was being hit by spending cuts was local government - hence this "Local Government Matters" blog.

Times have changed and it is clear the whole of the public sector is under attack and as a region our campaigning is wider than just local government.  So we've set up a new blog to cover the work we are dong across the public sector, in health, the police service, transport, energy, HE and FE, as well as local government.

We've imported the posts from the old Local Government Matters blog so there is some continuity. The new blog can be found here.

The "Local Government Matters" blog will now be defunct.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The public cost of cuts

A letter from John Sharman, branch sec at Lincs County branch to his local paper.


I read with dismay the article in today's Echo about announced reductions to Council budgets ("Authorities are 'ready to play part" in £4 cuts"). Lincolnshire County Council alone has been told it will receive £4,200,000 less from the government this financial year.


And of course this is only the start. Pronouncements from the coalition government indicate that there will be massive cuts in public spending over the next few years. Not just local councils, but other public services, many of whom are already being squeezed, will be squeezed further and further. This week one national personnel body – hardly a home of left-wing agitation – predicted that 750,000 public service jobs will be lost over the next five years.


These savage public sector cuts will have a devastating effect on local economies. For example, Lincolnshire County Council spends the majority of its budget on purchasing, so as that spend reduces so does the income of its contractors. Allied to that, it is the county's largest employer, so a shrinking workforce means less personal spending on local goods and services. And so the vicious circle goes on, taking us back into the recession from which we are said to be emerging.


The people who will pay the highest price for public spending cuts are the public themselves. It beggars belief that government ministers can talk of spending cuts of 20% and yet say that they will protect "front line" services. Firstly, with cuts of that magnitude, such a proposition is self-evidently impossible. Secondly, it is a false assumption that "front line" services are somehow separate from the rest of an organization.


I'm no expert in military matters, but even to me it is obvious that an army (and the term front line is a military metaphor) is dependent for its fighting capacity on its support systems. Soldiers in a war cannot survive without transport, ammunition supplies, catering, medical back-up, and so on. The situation is no different for those caring for the elderly, educating children, keeping the highways safe – and all the other services that local councils provide.


There is no way in which members of the public will not be hit hard by public spending cuts. Services that today we take for granted as part of the fabric of our society will disappear.


And let's remember where all this started: with the greed of the global finance industry. I cannot believe it is right that the price for bankers' mistakes should be paid by public servants. Pay in local government starts at £6.31 an hour (frozen this year, and it would seem for some time to come), hardly a comparison with city bonuses. Nor do I believe that price should be paid by the people of Lincolnshire being deprived of the services they deserve.


John Sharman

Lincolnshire County UNISON Branch Secretary

What the local government cuts mean for your council

See the attached link for a list of what the totally unnecessary local government cuts to this year's budget will mean for your council.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Spending Cuts – what does it mean for local government?

Yesterday the government announced £6.2bn of spending cuts to be made in this financial year with £1.165bn coming from local government.

Some of the cuts will be in the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) budget. The rest of the local government cuts are being made to specific and general grants that partly come from other government departments. Some of the funding streams that form Area Based Grant will be cut too. The breakdowon of the local government cuts is

  • Department for Communities & Local Government £362m – includes cut of £150m in PFI grant and cut in grant to Audit Commission
  • Treasury (via DCLG) £175m  
  • Department for Transport £309m
  • Department for Education £311m (from Connexions; Positive Action for Young People; Education Transport Grants)
  • Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs £8m


DCLG still cannot confirm which grants yet and say they are going to consult the LGA. Grim reading.


Hard pressed council staff have now got more uncertainty to contend with.


A Dismal Queen’s Speech says Dave Prentis

UNISON, the UK's leading public sector trade union, warned that Lib Dem/Tory plans outlined in the Queen's Speech today, will undermine vital public services, by opening them up to greater private sector involvement, while providing little help for the jobless and for economic recovery.

Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, said:

"The plans set out in this dismal Queen's Speech spell danger for public services, and for economic growth and offer little hope to either the young or long-term jobless. Breaking up the NHS and schools, letting the Tories' friends in big business get a slice of the pie, will not deliver better services or save money.  It is not what the public want either. Poll after poll shows people don't want greater private sector involvement in public services. With the recovery at an embryonic stage, it is vital that support for growth is maintained. Cutting public services and jobs now will hit local economies, stunting economic growth, and ultimately force long-term borrowing up."


On Schools:

"Rushing through plans for more academy schools, and allowing parents to set up free schools, top slicing existing education budgets to pay for them, will see mainstream school budgets dwindle, hitting children in failing schools hardest. These plans are totally out of step with public opinion. A recent survey by UNISON and NASUWT showed only 5% of the public support schools being run by parents; with only 4% in favour of schools being run by private companies. Most parents want a good local school, run by professionals, rather than one they have to get involved in running."

On the NHS:

"Opening up the NHS to greater private sector involvement is a red herring. It will not save money, but could have costly implications for patients. Selling off services to long-term, inflexible contracts, creates huge transaction costs, and the shareholder premium means money lines rich shareholder's pockets instead of being ploughed back into better services. It's a bad move to scrap Strategic Health Authorities, which play a vital role in making sure that there are no shortfalls or gaps in healthcare provision, and in overseeing standards. They make sure local health authorities can respond to national emergencies, such as the swine flu pandemic."

On Welfare reform:

"Handing welfare over to private contractors – at the same time as increasing sanctions for the jobless and cutting support available through the Future Jobs Fund  – is a recipe for exploitation and abuse."

On Housing:

"It's right to involve local councils and communities in planning and housing decisions, but there also needs to be a strong voice for the 1.7 million of families stuck on housing waiting lists. There is nothing here that will ensure the delivery of the affordable housing we desperately need. A radical programme of council house building now would also provide much-needed jobs in the private sector."

On Financial reform:

"UNISON along with many others has been campaigning hard for effective regulation and fair taxation of the banks and financial institutions that caused the economic crisis. We hope the promises Financial Services Bill won't have been written by the Tories' friends and funders in the City – but we won't hold our breath."

On Constitutional reform:

"We will always welcome any restoration of our civil liberties – especially through the abolition of the costly ID cards scheme - and enhancing the power of devolved and local government. But much of this government's reform agenda seems more designed to secure its own position against democratic pressures, and turn parliamentary accountability on it head."


On Police:

"Of course police forces should be accountable, but directly elected police chiefs are not the way to achieve this. Locally, there is broad political consensus that joined up neighbourhood policing/neighbourhood management is the best approach. These plans could be the cause of friction. Instead, UNISON believes councillors should be given a bigger role in police forces."


Monday, 24 May 2010

Government Cuts – One thing they got right

Regular readers of this blog will know we've been campaigning hard to cut wasteful expenditure on agency workers and consultants. There is one area where the Government has listened to UNISON – they have announced that they will be cutting back on the use of consultants in central government departments. If the government can see sense on this, why can't they see sense on the whole cuts agenda?


Let's hope local councils follow the lead of the government and cut back on the extravagant and wasteful £150m plus that was spent on agency workers and consultants in the East Midlands alone. In July (when the financial accounts for 2009/10 are closed off) we will be making another round of Freedom of Information requests to councils to see if the 2009/10 figures show an improvement. Watch this space for the results.


Cuts announcement signals worse to come - everyone will suffer

Commenting on George Osborne's speech today, which set out plans for £6 billion worth of public sector cuts, Dave Prentis, UNISON's General Secretary, said:


"This is the first cut of the axe, but it signals that there will be more to come from the emergency budget and the comprehensive spending review. The new Government is completely ignoring the human impact of these cuts.

Despite high levels of unemployment, the Government is happy to add tens of thousands more workers to the dole queue, putting the recovery at risk. Public spending cuts will hit small businesses, devastate families, and the most vulnerable in our society will suffer.

There is no logic in cutting public sector jobs and money for development, only to pile on pressure to the private sector to create jobs."

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Another picture caption that speaks more than a blog post can

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

There is an alternative to spending cuts

Ravi Subramanian, UNISON Regional Head of Local Government, had a column published in today's Nottingham Post outlining an alternative to the proposed £6bn of spending cuts. See below for the text of the article.


As Nick Clegg gets used to sharing power with David Cameron, the country waits to see what this marriage of convenience will bring. Speaking to Tory councillors, David Cameron said: "You demonstrate Conservative government – your values, your achievements, represent our party in action." Post readers already know what Tory councils are like.


Notts County Council recently implemented £28m of cuts. UNISON did a detailed analysis of the council's finances and showed the £28m could easily be found and the cuts were ideologically driven. Vital services like welfare rights were slashed and some old people had increases in user charges of over £20 a week.


Tory-run Barnet Council is adopting an "EasyJet" model with basic services provided free, with top-up charges for extra services. It's cuts by another means, as those who need higher levels of service are least able to pay the extra.


In tough times we need public services more than ever. They support communities, help people back into work, give our children the best start and care for our sick and elderly. Putting money into local services helps kick-start economic growth. When the Notts pits closed the local economy collapsed, as people had less money to spend in local businesses.


Big cuts are not inevitable; they are a political choice. It's not just UNISON saying this. Less than a month ago the Lib Dems pledged to oppose the savage £6bn of extra cuts proposed by the Tories. Now they are part of a government that has agreed to the £6bn of extra cuts. This coalition is nothing more than a shabby deal, for the benefit of politicians who are prepared to shed their principles in a grab for power.


It was not ordinary taxpayers or vulnerable people who caused this financial mess; it was greedy bankers. You'd expect UNISON to be against cuts and you might well ask: "Where's the money going to come from?" The people who got us into this mess can help get us out of it; around £30bn could be raised annually by introducing a major financial transactions tax on UK financial institutions.


Further annual savings could be made as follows: £10bn by reforming tax havens and residence rules to reduce tax avoidance by corporations and "non-domiciled'' residents such as Tory donor Lord Ashcroft; £14.9bn to stop tax relief being used to disproportionately subsidise incomes over £100,000; £1bn by halving local government agency workers costs (Notts County Council spend around £19m each year); £5bn could be raised with an empty property tax on vacant dwellings.


The Lib Dems had a chance to smooth off the worst excesses of a Tory government but they've agreed to the extra £6bn of unnecessary cuts. Labour said "vote Lib Dem, get Tories" and were scoffed at for scaremongering. Sadly, they were proved right.


In the 90s the unjust Poll Tax was defeated by a public campaign. These cuts can be defeated, too. UNISON's Million Voices for Public Services campaign aims to do this. All we want is a civilised, fair and compassionate, society with decent public services. Even in these difficult times, this is still possible by implementing a fairer tax system.