Thursday, 17 December 2009

The importance of public services in the economic recovery - an MP speaks

Colin Burgon, MP for the Leeds constituency of Elmet, made the following timely speech in Parliament yesterday about the economy and public services.

Over the past 18 months we have lived through a financial and economic crisis of international capitalism that is unprecedented since the great depression of the ’30s. Historically unmatched levels of state intervention have been required to stabilise the western economy, which at many times has stood on the verge of collapse.

How ironic it is that the agency of government has done the rescuing—an idea that is anathema to all those neo-liberal free-marketeers who took as their guiding mantra Ronald Reagan’s comment that government is not the solution, but the problem.

The Government’s intervention has crossed the political divide. George Bush’s right-wing Government nationalised the two giant US mortgage market companies and in Britain the Labour Government have made bank interventions that have so far cost us about £140 billion, which is equivalent to more than 10 per cent. of our GDP and more than will be spent on the national health service this year.

The state interventions have ended any supremacy claimed by those ideological fanatics who previously argued that unrestrained free markets were the answer to all economic problems. They have spent the past 30 years seeking to extend the market into more and more areas of our life and have also promoted the domination of finance over all other sectors of our economy.

Yet just one year later, the same free market zealots in the world of politics and their friends in their media now want to take the axe to the public sector, allegedly to address the problems faced by the economy.

At this point we should ask ourselves three questions. First, how did a financial collapse that brought such damage to the wider economy suddenly become the fault of such people as nurses, teachers, carers and other working people? Secondly, why should the majority of the population suffer, as they will if public services are severely cut? Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, will severe cuts help solve the economic problems that we face?

I want to state that the debate on economic recovery has wrongly and harmfully become dominated by those who argue that only by cutting public services can the issue of growth and the national debt be addressed. That has now become accepted wisdom; it is the received orthodoxy. However, it was once the received medical orthodoxy that the bleeding of patients was a necessary step to recovery. Thankfully, that orthodoxy was overthrown due to the experience of its deadly effects. It therefore needs to be said somewhere, loud and clear, that national debt is the symptom, not the cause, of the recession. To seek to address the debt by attacking Government expenditure fails to tackle the real causes of the economic crisis that have created a deficit.

By engaging in the cuts agenda, either now or in the next few years, we will cause long-term damage or risk a Japanese-style lost decade—or, as some economists are calling it, a zombie economy. Such an economic situation would hit the public finances even more dramatically, leaving us with even larger debts. Instead of the obsession with cuts we need a growth agenda that will allow Government revenues to rise and unemployment to fall and that will, in turn, reduce the debt.

As such an approach breaks with the consensus that has emerged on cutting public services, it may be helpful to put the current levels of national debt into an historical and international context. Government debt, which is at 55 per cent. of GDP in this financial year, is estimated to peak at 78 per cent. in 2014. Although that figure is high, it is far from unprecedented historically. According to the recent House of Commons paper “Background to the 2009 Pre-Budget Report”, Government debt was more than 100 per cent. of GDP every year from 1945 until 1963. The same paper adds: “UK debt would still be below that of Italy, Japan and the US, and broadly similar to that of France and Germany” at the end of 2010.

Of course, the national debt should be reduced in the future, not least as interest repayments soak up vital resources that could be better spent on schools, hospitals and elsewhere, but contrary to the claim of those on the right, increasing the deficit has been necessary during the worldwide recession—especially as it was so deep. I noticed that William Keegan explained it in The Observer in the following way:

“the large deficit…is not the problem: it is an integral part of the solution. It is the reason why we have not experienced the kind of full-scale 1930s-style depression which would have been on the cards without drastic fiscal action.”

Furthermore, anyone seriously wishing to address the debt rather than to pursue outdated and ineffective ideological goals might first want to look at how the debt has come about. Were they to do that, they would find that it is the consequence of three things: declining Government revenues; the large bank bail-outs, which amount to more than 10 per cent. of GDP; and, to a much lesser degree, an increase in Government expenditure. Treasury figures estimate an increase in public sector net debt of 18.9 per cent. of GDP between April 2008 and April 2010, excluding the bank bail-outs.

The majority of the increase in the debt has been caused by a fall in Government receipts. As the House of Commons paper “The outlook for the public finances” explains, it is normal during a recession for revenues to fall. Similarly, Government expenditure has also risen, as expected in a recession. That inevitable rise in Government expenditures is due to the so-called “automatic” processes that take place in a recession, such as, for example, the fact that we see more benefits paid out.

However, only a minority of the deficit has been caused by the increase in Government expenditure, so I would argue that the calls to cut the public sector display economic incoherence. As Professor David Blanchflower, former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, told the Opposition: “Cutting public spending in a recession is a really bad idea.” I urge even those people on the Government Benches who are tempted by it to reject it.

So, what is the way forward? What practical polices do we need to address the vital issues of investment and growth?

First, we need the Government to use their majority holdings in a number of banks to force the banks to increase investment and lending levels to businesses and to families to revive the economy and housing market. I am one of those who think that there is an element of gutlessness in the way that our Government have dealt with the banks, but we may come on to that later.

Secondly, in those areas where market failure is greatest and private investment has collapsed the most, the Government need to step in and invest directly themselves. Large-scale state investment in transport and housing in such areas would be economically as well as socially useful.

Thirdly, in the really long term, we desperately need to rebalance the economy away from its reliance on finance and develop the industries of the future. The UK has the potential to generate something like 400,000 jobs in green industries, but to fulfil that potential we need state-led investment on a green new deal that would be of tremendous immediate economic benefit and of long-term environmental benefit.

Fourthly, we can help reflate the economy through increasing levels of consumption by putting money into the pockets of those most likely to spend it. The last 30 years of neo-liberalism have witnessed a smaller and smaller proportion of the economy going to wages. If the Government were to reverse that by raising taxation on the super-rich and then handing over exactly the same amount of money to ordinary families, overall consumer spending would rise, helping the economy to move out of recession.

Finally, for those who advocate cuts, there are areas of public spending that can be cut. We do not need to renew Trident and, although I used to support them, I no longer think that we need ID cards. By cutting those projects, tens of billions of pounds could be saved at a stroke.

The package that I have outlined is only a small example of what could be done. It would be a popular message and it would deal with the debt and the much larger issue of restoring economic growth.

The alternative to going for growth is a cuts agenda, but cuts are not savings. They would remove demand from the economy and the recession would worsen as the negative multiplier effect kicked in. On this, we need to learn the lessons of history. Roosevelt announced his new deal in 1933, and things went well for three years after the banks were regulated and there was a big increase in public spending. Then, afraid of public debt and under pressure from the right, he began to cut, sending the economy back into a recession from which it did not recover until just before the second world war.

We can also learn from countries that are a bit closer to Britain than America. If we look just across the Irish sea, we can see the slash-and-burn tactics being employed by the Irish Government. The Fianna Fáil Government have overseen savage cuts to the public sector and a real fiscal tightening—something so beloved of the right wing in this country. That has been to the detriment to the wider economy in Ireland, which has continued to worsen. So the debt continues to rise while the Governments have become more unpopular as the majority have suffered. Colleague and comrades on the Labour Benches should learn the economic and political lessons from Ireland.

I mentioned Roosevelt in a slightly pejorative way earlier so, in an attempt to balance that, I want to say that I believe that we are in a period of great ideological debate—and that is as it should be in a period of great economic crisis. Basically, the debate boils down to these questions: has the neo-liberal consensus of the past 30 years been correct, and what is the role of Government?

By way of an answer, I shall draw on the words of Roosevelt himself. He said:

“What is the State? It is the duly constituted representative of an organized society of human beings, created by them for their mutual protection and well-being. ‘The state’ or ‘The Government’ is but the machinery through which such mutual aid and protection are achieved.”

As we have this huge intellectual debate, I hope that those ideas are remembered. I also hope that we are moving into a period that sees the demise of neo-liberalism.

Colin makes the case for public services being part of the solution to get the country out of the mess caused by greedy bankers. His speech is very much in tunes with UNISON's Million Voices for Public Services camapign.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Daily Express Readers Support Public Sector Pensions!

You've not misread the title of this blog post. Last week the Daily Express ran a phone poll asking "Should public sector pensions be cut back?"

Today (in small print) the Daily Express published the results of the poll. Apparently 69% of Express readers think public sector pensions should not be cut. Well done to Express readers for seeing sense.

Strangely the results of the poll are not yet on their website - but there are numerous poll results about Muslims and, asylum seekers.

Spin over services

Notts County Council are planning to make £33m of service cuts - and at the same time they have decided to advertise for a a new Service Director of Communications (aka "Spin Doctor") with the very handsome salary of more than £71,000

This is a slap in the face of the thousands of frontline staff such as care workers, social workers and contact centre staff who will be spending the Christmas break worrying about whether they will be made redundant in the new year

The advert, which you can find here, says "Nottinghamshire has undergone a change in direction." The council has certainly undergone a change in direction as it now values spin over services

Shameful behavoiour.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Show us the money

Many councils are saying they have financial problems and are having to cut budgets. Undoubtedly many are facing a drop income from reductions in planning fees and parking charges. And undoubtedly some are facing increasing pressures on budgets as demand for vital services goes up.

But, for years many of them have been putting money into reserves for a "rainy day." We believe that rainy day has come and some councils have the opportunity to use their reserves to protect services.

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by UNISON have uncovered that many councils in the East Midlands have relatively large reserves that could be used to help support budget problems in the short term. Councils carry many types of reserve, many of which are earmarked for specific projects. However, the reserves we have focused on are the unallocated reserves, or “General Fund Balance” that is free to be spent on anything.

We believe any second tier council (district or borough council) with more than 10 per cent of its total expenditure in unallocated reserves has enough flexibility to use some of these reserves to support any budget shortfalls for the next few years. See here for the list of reserves of all of the 36 second tier councils in the East Midlands. The report also shows the total expenditure for the council in 2008/09 and shows reserves as a proportion of expenditure. Some have big reserves compared to their total expenditure.

The councils with the green bars are ones where reserves are in excess of 10 per cent of their expenditure. Some councils such as (but not limited to) Ashfield, Derbyshire Dales and South Holland have well over 15 per cent in reserves, while some like Daventry and Melton have over 20 per cent in reserves.

Likewise we believe any first tier council (county or unitary council) with more than 2.5 per cent of its total non schools expenditure in unallocated reserves has enough flexibility to use some reserves to support any budget shortfalls for the next few years. See here for the list of reserves of all of the nine first tier councils in the East Midlands. Unallocated reserves range from £1m to a whopping £39m.

So, as the 45 councils in the region construct their budgets for 2010/11, our research has uncovered around half of them have money in reserves they can use to help support their budget. There is no excuse for these councils to cut services.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Social Work Task Force

Chris Tansley is one of the region's reps on UNISON's Social Care forum and he has written about the Social Care Task Force report that was released today. The report sets the scene for the future of social work and it is vital central and local government make the funding available to enable the report's recommendations to become reality. Chris Tansley's report is below.

There’s a lot to be welcomed in the task force recommendations released today (1st December) and a lot that mirrors what we’ve been saying in UNISON since the Laming report.
http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=1663

We said to the task force and to the minister, Ed Balls, that the high vacancy levels of social workers meant that those that were employed were carrying dangerously high caseloads.


We also said that the IT system brought in at Laming's recommendation was cumbersome and taking up to 70% of social workers time – time which would be better spent working with the children and families they were responsible for.

UNISON has been saying for years that we need a new grade of senior practitioner to prevent our experienced social workers having only the option of going into management if they wanted to improve their pay.

All of these issues are outlined in the report and Ed Balls has given his commitment to implementing them in full.

The task for us all in social work is to ensure that they are implemented jointly with UNISON representatives at a local level.

These recommendations cannot be done on the cheap. They will require real resources if they are to succeed. This comes at a time when finance in the public sector is in crisis. We need the Government to match their words of support with increased funding specifically aimed at implementing the proposals.

The setting up of a National College of Social Work did not form one of UNISON's proposals. We have been saying for several years now that the image and status of social work needs to be radically improved but we remain sceptical that a National College will just become a distraction from the real issues facing social workers. What matters to social workers is that they get the improvements to their working conditions and career progression in their workplaces.

We also need the Government to build on the start they’ve made in putting the message across that our social workers need to be valued for the great work they do in our communities with vulnerable children and families every day of the year. Perhaps then it will be a career of choice again and social workers can say that they are proud of the work they do.

For the Task Force Report see here.

Chris Tansley

Chair - UNISON National Social Care Forum

Heather Wakefield's blog

Heather Wakefield, UNISON's National Secretary for Local Government has written a very timely piece about the government's recent proposals for a "National Care Service" (NCS). She welcomes the introduction of the NCS but highlights some serious issues about the current situation in care work, in particular, problems with outsourcing; scandalously low rates of pay; workers having to pay for their own uniforms; and patchy service standards.

You can find Heather's article here.

Monday, 30 November 2009

GPF funded billboards

The Notts County UNISON branch are taking their fight against the savage £33m cuts being made by their council right into the community.

GPF funded billboard posters of the image above will be appearing around Nottinghamshire. The current billboard campaign runs at selected locations during the run-up to Christmas. The branch is planning further public campaigning next year. The Council consultation period for the announced cuts is due to end on 22 January 2010.

30 Nov to 13 December:
Carlton: Burton Road (A612), rail bridge, NG4 2QG
Newark: Northern Road near Sleaford Road NG24 2EU
Nottingham: Meadow Lane opp Notts County FC, NG2 3HR

14 Dec to 27 December:
Carlton: Burton Road (A612), rail bridge, NG4 2QG
Nottingham: Meadow Lane opp Notts County FC, NG2 3HR
Mansfield: 37 St Johns St/Quaker way, NG18 1QJ
Mansfield: Kirklington Road opp South Ave, Rainworth, NG21 0JR

28 Dec thru to mid January 2010
Gamston: Morrisons Store, Gamston

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Letter to the Notts County Council Chief Exec about the budget cuts

Last week the UNISON regional office wrote to the Chief Executive at Notts Council to ask some searching questions about the budget cuts. The text of the letter is reproduced in italics below.

UNISON have reviewed the budget proposals contained in the Cabinet report of 18 November 09 we have some questions.

Budget pressures
The 2009/10 budget report to full Council on 25 February 2009 initially identified budget pressures of £11.9m in 2010/11.

However, the 2010/11 budget report to the Cabinet on 18 November 2009 now identifies budget of pressures of £31.1m; an increase of £19.2m.

We have been able to identify that of the additional £19.2m budget pressures, £9m is from the decision to freeze Council Tax. We are puzzled as to where the additional £10.2m in budget pressures has come from in fewer than nine months.

These additional budget pressures over and above the original £11.9m identified in February budget report are not individually identified in November budget report. We believe that identifying the specific additional pressures will assist the council in producing a transparent and balanced budget.

Our question is:
1. Can the council please identify the specific individual additional budget pressures totalling £10.2m over and above the pressures in identified in the February budget report?

Use of reserves
The Statement of Accounts for 2008/09 show that the reserve called “Earmarked for Services” was at £18.4m as of 31 March 09. We believe this is what has also been referred to in other documents as “Departmental Reserves.” Our question is:

2. We understand some of these reserves are for capital projects but we would be grateful if you could confirm what level of these reserves could be used to support revenue expenditure?

On page A29 para 11.3 of the document the February budget report the table shows a projected transfer into the County Fund Balances of £3.7m.

3. Can you confirm if this £3.7m transfer is still intended as part of the 2010/11 budget? If the answer is yes, can you please explain why, given these difficult financial times, that the council has not chosen use this money to support the 2010/11 revenue budget?

We have identified from the Statement of Accounts for 2008/09 the total reserves of the council stand at £150.8m as of 31 March 09 and that the unallocated reserves, aka “County Fund Balances” stand at £24.8m. Our question is:

4. Given the above levels of reserves would you agree that it would not be unreasonable for the council to use, say, £2m a year for the next three years, from the County Fund Balances to help support the revenue budget.

Projected Outturn for 2009/10
We have reviewed the first quarter’s budget monitoring report and we believe the council is projected to under spend by £2.4m in 2009/10. Our questions are:

5. Are we correct that the first quarter’s monitoring report does indeed predict an under spend of £2.4m?

6. Do you have more up to date figures for the projected outturn for 2009/10, if so what is it?

7. Do you accept that any surplus on the 2009/10 budget that is transferred to the County Fund Balances could be used to support future revenue budgets?

We note that the projected outturn referred to above was made before the outcome of the 2009/10 NJC pay award which according to the Council will result in a further saving of £1.7m. Our question is:

8. Do you agree that the council has saved £1.7m as outlined above?

We note that the 2009/10 budget includes a £3m provision for ‘contingencies.’ Our question is:

9. What is the projected spend on this contingencies sum?

10. If it is not all spent, does the council accept some of it could be used to support the revenue budget in 2010/11?

Application of the Formula Grant
We understand there is a damping mechanism that applies to central government formula grant that means that the council currently is subject to a “ceiling” which limits the size of the grant payable to the council. We also note that damping mechanism is to be gradually phased out meaning the council should expect growth in formula grant of in excess of £15m in the coming years. However, we note the council has predicted a reduction in the formula grant. Our question is:

11. Do you agree that if the damping mechanism is gradually reduced then the council could expect a growth in formula grant of in excess of £15m in the coming years?

Impact of a Future Conservative Government
We would refer you to the policy statement below contained on page 16 in the Conservative Party document Control Shift – Returning Power to Local Communities; Conservative Party (17 February 2009) (attached):
“………That is why we have announced that, in the first two years of a Conservative government, councils will also have the ability to contract with central government to freeze council tax. Those councils that take up the contract will have to undertake to hold the rate of rise in council tax to 2.5 per cent or less; and central government will correspondingly undertake to make a payment equal to 2.5 per cent of that council’s council tax – so that bills can be frozen in each such council for the two year period.”

Our questions are:

12. Does the council agree that this additional central government grant would amount to an additional £7.5m in the budget for both 2011/12 and 2012/13?

13. Why has the council not taken into account this potential additional grant income in its financial plan for the years 2011/12 and 2012/13?

We will be advising our members that we have raised these questions with the council and we undertake to share any response from the council with them.

More cuts announced - this time in Newark

Newark and Sherwood District Council have just announced they will be cutting £4m over the next few years. An extract of from their website says:

"As part of the budget preparations for 2010/11, the council is looking at making savings of around six per cent. On a net budget of £18million, this is a saving, in one year, of more than £1million. In the next three to four years we will have to shave another £4million off our budget."

Shaving £4m from a budget of £18m means cuts of nearly 25% - there is no doubt everyone will feel the impact of these cuts. On top of these cuts, residents of Newark and Sherwood will also have to deal with the impact of the proposed £33m cuts announced by Nottinghamshire County Council.

More short sighted cuts from a council who took the irresponsible decision to freeze council tax for this financial year.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Northamptonshire County Council announce £100m cuts over 4 years

Another Conservative council in the East Midlands has announced savage cuts. Northamptonshire County Council have said they will be cutting £100m over the next 4 years. This is the largest budget cut announced in the past few months. This looks like another Conservative attempt to bring in David Cameron's "small state."

The "small state" may be a nice soundbite, but the reality is it means cuts in public services that impact on the most vulnerable in our society.

The local UNISON branch will be mounting a vigorous campaign against these unjust cuts.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Letter to David Cameron about Conservative Councils' Inconsistency on Budgets

Pete Challis, a National Officer in the Local Government Service Group has identified that many Conservative Councils have been planning their budgets in a manner inconsistent with national Conservative party policy. In the East Midlands, Notts County Council (who are making £33m of savage cuts) is one of these councils.

So this week, the East Midlands region wrote to David Cameron seeking clarification on Conservative party policy. An extract of the letter is below.

Letter to David Cameron, Leader of the Conservative Party:

The majority of councils we deal with are Conservative controlled and it has become apparent there are differing approaches to medium term financial planning, especially with respect to projected future formula grant funding in the financial years 2011/12 and 2012/13.


We note that the Conservative Party made the policy statement below, which is on page 16 in the Conservative Party document Control Shift – Returning Power to Local Communities; Conservative Party (17 February 2009)):

“………That is why we have announced that, in the first two years of a Conservative government, councils will also have the ability to contract with central government to freeze council tax. Those councils that take up the contract will have to undertake to hold the rate of rise in council tax to 2.5 per cent or less; and central government will correspondingly undertake to make a payment equal to 2.5 per cent of that council’s council tax – so that bills can be frozen in each such council for the two year period.”

Many Conservative councils are freezing Council Tax over the next three years and some are including in their medium term financial plans the additional payment outlined above. However, there are some Conservative councils, such as Nottinghamshire County Council who are not making any provision for this additional income in 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Given this we have two specific questions:

1. Is it your intention that a future Conservative government will implement the policy outlined above?

2. If the answer to 1 above, is yes, then do you believe that councils such as Nottinghamshire County should include this additional income in their financial plans for 2011/12 and 2012/13?

There is clearly an inconsistent approach on this matter by Conservative councils in this region and it would be helpful to have clarification from your office.

Although the letter refers to Notts County Council, there are many other Conservative councils in the reigon (the rest of the country) that are freezing council tax but have not taken into account this extra government grant (or "cash back" as the Lincolnshire County UNISON branch call it).

When we get a reply from Mr Cameron we will post it up on the blog.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Lincolnshire County UNISON ask some tough questions about the budget

The Linclonshire County UNISON branch recently had a branch committee where two senior finance managers attended to explain the financial situation at the council. Knowing they were coming the branch prepared a number of very interesting questions. The branch had many questions and 16 of key ones are outlined below. Page numbers refer to the 2008/09 Statement of Accounts 2008/09, available on the County Council website here.

Congratulations to the Lincolnshire County branch who have shown they are not prepared to accept cuts without asking some very searching questions of their council. They have performed a public service on behalf the people of Lincolnshire ensuring the report is put under proper scrutiny.

Reserves

1. General reserves increased by £2m in 08/09 (p20). Was this planned, or a budget underspend, and what are the future expectations for reserves.

2. Earmarked reserves stand at £60m (p55). What is represented by the major additions during 08/09, Other Services (up from £3.5m to £11.2m) and Waste Disposal (up from £6.2m to £14.1)?

3. When is the protocol for each earmarked reserve reviewed, and can we be supplied with copies?

4. Are there any earmarked capital reserves that can now be “unearmarked” due to changed plans and priorities? If so, are there any other earmarked capital reserves that are using revenue funds that could be released by transferring the now freed up capital reserves?

Pay

5. The Council is revising its provision for pay inflation in 09/10 down from 2.5% to 0.0%. What will be the budgetary implications of any nationally agreed pay awards next year?

6. Figures for salaries over £50,000 (p30) show an increase from 112 to 162 (excluding schools), or 43%. Is it realistic to accept that level of increase in one year and propose a pay freeze in another?

Consultants and Agency Staff

7. Figures given in response to Unison’s FOI request show a spend in 08/09 of £788,000 on consultants and £3.8m on agency staff. These figures are low in comparison to other authorities – what definition has the county council used, in particular for “consultants”?

8. Are elements of commissioned services that are actually consultancy captured under the correct heading – eg Mouchel consultancy time paid above the core contract?

9. Can the council break down the agency worker and consultant costs in to those incurred on the capital and revue accounts?

10. Can LCC differentiate between its permanent and non-permanent staffing costs, breaking the latter down into agency, fixed-term and consultant?

11. What are the instances of consultants replacing established posts over a period of continuous time, eg Diversity Manager?

12. What approval is required by the Resourcing Board for the engagement of consultants.

Issues for the 2010/2011 budget

13. Implications of 0.0% inflation assumption: are there contracts which have different inflationary increases built in?

14. Capital programme: is any direct contribution from revenue expected, other than debt charges? In respect of these, will refinancing be examined to release revenue benefits?

15. What impact will proposals for residential care of older people have on the budget?

16. Council tax: will the Council provide models showing the implications of different Council Tax increases on services? Suggest at 1%, 2% and 3% council tax increase. Increases in council tax to be shown as an increase per week to each band of household.

Ashfield Council making cuts.... and the local branch ask some searching questions

On 19 November Ashfield District Council Cabinet will be considering a report (and appendix) that proposes budget cuts of over £1m in 2010/11 and nearly another £1m in 2011/12.

The local UNISON branch have been scrutinising the report and will be raising the following questions:

1. We note that "Contributions to Specific Reserves" are £0.548 million each year from 2010/11 (except for 2011/12) to 2014/15. We would ask request members ask what these amounts are earmarked for and whether there is scope to reduce these contributions to make available further sums to retain existing services.

2. Similarly the "General Reserve" from 2012/13 is set at staying at £3.207 million from then & for future years. We believe it is right that the authority should have such a reserve set at a minimum level of about 10% of expenditure. We believe therefore that there is scope to reduce the reserve to £2 million which would allow another £1.2 million to be used to maintain existing services. Indeed the report at section 9 reports the decision of Cabinet in August to set a minimum level for the General Reserve at £2.5 million, so even on this basis another £0.7 million could be used to maintain existing services.

3. Much is rightly made of the impact of the current recession, but we believe account should be taken in the MTFS of the recession ending and an economic improvement showing at least for the last two years 2013/14 and 2014/15 in the MTFS. We believe factoring in of increased income (e.g. from planning applications) & revenue contributions from capital sales that are likely to have developed by then could also give the council more scope to have further funds available for maintaining services by these years.

Excellent work from the branch demonstrating that the situation is not as dire as the report suggests.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Derbyshire County Council cutting £6m

A Cabinet report at Derbyshire County Council in September identified that the council planned to make savings of £6.1m in 2010/11. Contrast this with Notts County Council who are cutting £33m from the budget in 2010/11.

Both councils were Labour controlled for over 15 years until the elections in June 2009, when the Conservatives took control in both councils. Both councils are very similar sizes. One is cutting £6.1m and the other is cutting five times more.

Why the difference?

Heather Wakefield's blog - Unkind Cuts

Heather Wakefield, UNISON's National Secretary for Local Government has written about the "unkind cuts" many councils are inflicting across the country. You can find it here

Heather argues that it is the most vulnerable in our communities that are being made to pay for the ludicrous decision many councils have taken to freeze council tax. She also gives her own take on what is happening in Nottinghamshire.

One paragraph of her piece gives some really interesting information about council reserves. It is reproduced below.

"Even more interesting is the fact that in every year from 2003/04 to 2007/08, English councils have budgeted on the basis that they will need to draw on their reserves in order to balance their books. However, when the outturn figures have been published, they have actually added to them – as we’ve seen above. In 2007/08, councils in England forecast a reduction of £890m in reserves, but in fact, they increased them by £1.5bn."

Some councils may have real fiancial problems, but many of them have been building up reserves for years and they have no need to cut vital services, other than for idealogical reasons. The East Midlands region of UNISON has been collating information on council reserves and we will be publishing our findings soon - and in many cases we've identified that councils have high levels of reserves.

Watch this space.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Mansfield District Council budget deficit

Mansfield District Council have just announced a budget deficit of £700,000. Whilst not of the same scale as Notts County Council, for a small council this is a worrying amount. One small positive thing, is unlike Notts County Council, Mansfield are not being financially irresponsible and not raising Council Tax; a 3% rise is proposed.

For more info on the story click here.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A warning of what to expect if Cameron is elected

Nottinghamshire County Council recently announced savage budget cuts of £33m for 2010/11. Below is a column by Ravi Subramanian, UNISON (East Midlands) Regional Head of Local Government published in The Nottingham Evening Post on 10 November.

The mark of a civilised society is how it treats the vulnerable. Recent budget proposals from Notts County Council seem to show they have turned their back on this idea. UNISON will be working with community groups to fight these cuts and we are currently analysing the proposals in detail. One key fact is that many of the cuts stem from the political decision to freeze council tax. In the Post on Saturday the council's leader Coun Kay Cutts said the reason to freeze council tax was because "many older people are on fixed incomes"; it implied she is tying to protect them from increased costs.

But if these older people use council services they could be paying more in council charges. Daycare transport costs are going up £1.85 a day, meal costs are up £1.60 a day and there will be a £4 daily charge for daycare which was previously free. This means some older people could easily be paying £5 per day more in charges. Freezing council tax puts the burden of the cuts on them.

The original financial plan assumed a 3% increase in council tax, raising an additional £9m. Surely those in a Band H house in, say, affluent Normanton-on-the-Wolds, could afford an extra £1.37 a week to help out the most vulnerable? The cost to a Band A household would be just 46p a week.

In a recession, public services are needed more, not less.Yes this needs to be paid for, but less than the price of a cup of coffee a week is not a lot to ask.

The cabinet report outlining the cuts is over 50 pages and space means I can't go into detail about all the proposals, which include closing recycling centres in Stapleford, Sutton and Gedling; shutting four day centres; increasing community care charges by over 30%; and introducing charges for residential parking. However, it is worth looking in detail at two areas just to illustrate how ridiculous the proposals are.

Firstly, welfare rights provision will be slashed by a third. It doesn't take a genius to work out in a recession there will be increased demand for this service, so why is it being cut?

Secondly, the recent damning Ofsted report into children's services exposed the high caseloads of social workers. The council say they are investing extra money in this area, which we welcome, but how will the recently announced cuts to terms and conditions help to retain existing staff, let alone attract new staff? Surely it is better that the council attracts and directly employs suitably qualified staff, rather than use expensive consultant social workers, as they are currently proposing. It makes no sense.

If the council wants to make savings it could do something about the £19m a year it spends on agency workers – the highest figure for any East Midlands council. They could easily save 10%, which would release nearly £2m.

While the leadership of the council spend their time changing the carpets, uprooting war memorials, removing stained glass windows and creating extra costly cabinet posts, UNISON members are working hard providing home care, helping teach our children and providing meals for older people. Our members are rightly angry that as they toil away to provide valuable services to our communities.

This Conservative council has created a budget problem so that it can move towards the "small state" David Cameron desires. A small state may be a good soundbite, but the reality is the most vulnerable are left to suffer. What is happening at County Hall should serve as a warning of what to expect if David Cameron is elected Prime Minister.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Lincolnshire County Council turns its back on council run care homes

Lincolnshire County Council recently announced plans that mean there will soon by no council run care homes in Lincolnshire. Under the plans, the eight remaining council run homes, would be closed and private voluntary sector homes would be provided instead.

The local UNISON branch criticised the plans saying the county council is shirking its responsibilities and the proposals would make private care the only option for the elderly. Commenting on the proposals, John Sharman, Lincolnshire County UNISON Branch Secretary:

"Over a period of years the county council has divested itself of all direct care provision. "We will certainly be getting involved in the consultation period and putting forward the views of our members."

Where would you prefer your relatives to be looked after - in a council run care home with well trained, well motivated staff with good supervision; or in a privately run home that exists primarily to make a profit?

Friday, 6 November 2009

That leaked Notts County Council Budget Cuts Report

Here is a link to the leaked Notts County Council budget cuts report.

It is frightening how savage these cuts are - there can be no doubt that the most vulnerable in our society will be hardest hit. A measure of a civilised society is how we look after the most vulnerable in our communities. It is clear that the Tories have no desire to create a civilised society. Go to page 22 onwards to see the details of the cuts.

All of this from a Tory administration, who, as one of their first acts when coming into power, was to create extra Cabinet posts for themselves, all at an extra cost to the taxpayer of over £140,000. Now they've feathered their own nest, some of the other things they are proposing to do are:

- increase community care charges from £8.80 to £12.00 per hour
- increase the cost of meals in residential and day care services by over 50%
- increase home to day care transport charges for service users by 86%
- reduce welfare rights provision by 33%

This is just a small snapshot of their budget proposals and of course this is this will hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

While she was dreaming up these savage cuts over the past few months, Tory leader, Kay Cutts was enjoying the benefit of a £11,000 refurbishment of the ruling group's corridor including a new wooden floor in her office to replace a carpet that was reportedly only a year old.

We know where her priorities lie.

Notts County protest against the attack on terms and conditions

Yesterday, at 12:30 there was a protest lead by UNISON against the savage and unjustified cuts on the terms and conditions of Notts County Council staff. Hundreds of people turned up to tell the council what they thought. The Nottingham Evening Post has a story about the protest here. It was great to see so many different people from all over the county prepared to speak up and speak out; some had travelled over 20 miles in their lunch break to make their voice heard. By the time protesters had got to County Hall, the Evening Post had published leaked details of the brutal cuts to services. These are services that are need now more than ever by some of the most vulnerable in our community.

Labour and Lib Dem County Councillors gave speeches supporting the protesters (pictured is Labour Group Deputy Leader, Joyce Bosniak addressing the protesters). Tory County Councllors were nowhere to be seen, apparently they were enjoying their lunch in County Hall. Not one Tory Councty Councillor was prepared to show their face - instead they sent Chief Executive, Mick Burrows, out to do their dirty work and try to justify this unfair attack on hard working council staff.

UNISON NEC member and Nottinghamshire County UNISON joint branch secretary, Chris Tansley, said that the actions of the Tories, who took control in June, should serve as a warning to UNISON members elsewhere:

“We are finding out the hard way what a Tory government would be like. We have a new Tory leader here called Kay Cutts who is really living up to her name. Under her leadership they are cutting staff redundancy entitlements to pave the way to axing over 470 posts. Staff are having their mileage rates cut, annual leave reduced and losing agreed pay protections.

Not content with that the Tories are attacking services to their own community by selling off all the elderly persons homes, closing a quarter of the day centres, reducing benefits advice and even shutting the facilities for buying a cup of tea in Sherwood forest. Robin Hood would be appalled! The substantial increase to the costs for home care, meals on wheels and transport to the remaining day centres will mean that the elderly and disabled will only get the service they can afford.

It's the same Ryanair approach to Council Services that the Tories in Barnet are pushing ahead with and that Cameron is so impressed with. We're determined that UNISON will lead the way in campaigning against these draconian attacks on jobs and services. We’re also pleased that the Labour Councillors have signed up to our Million Voices campaign and look forward to working with them to fight these proposals."

Monday, 2 November 2009

Victory for transparency

We've got our first victory in our campaign for greater transparency on Chief Executives' pay (see the post immediately below for details of our campaign). According to the Northampton Chronicle here, Northampton Borough Council have agreed to publish the Chief Executive's pay of £138,000 as a "result of a pressure camapign by union bosses."

We congratulate them for their openess and let's hope the other 19 councils who did not give us the information on exactly what their Chief Excutive was paid follow suit.

Remember we want to know, not just their salary, but details of any bonuses, allowances or other perks they receive.

Chief Exectives' Pay - End the Veil of Secrecy

UNISON (East Midlands) has called for the pay and benefits of Council Chief Executives to be published annually on council websites. This call follows our Freedom of Information requests sent to all 45 local authorities in the East Midlands. Only 25 councils were prepared to disclose actual pay; the others only gave salary ranges but no information on bonuses, expenses or other rewards.

We know Chief Executives provide crucial leadership to councils charged with delivering essential services to communities. Yet, whilst there is always transparency on the pay levels of care staff and social workers, there seems to be a cloak of secrecy when it comes to the highest paid. That isn’t fair, and council chiefs should be prepared to be open about their pay.

We’ve seen the MPs’ expenses scandal and the outrageous bonuses of greedy bankers who caused this financial crisis; it’s simply time for councils to be totally open about the money spent on their senior staff. If 25 councils are happy to provide the information to UNISON all councils should follow this good practice.

If you want to see the pay rates that were provided to UNISON click here. When you look at these rates of pay bear in mind that across England and Wales, 54 per cent of council staff earn less than £16,950 per annum.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Notts County UNISON say "no way"

Notts County UNISON have hit back at the council's proposals to slash terms and conditions of staff as a precursor to budget cuts from the aptly named Tory Leader of the Council, Kay Cutts.

For more info read here and check the branch's website.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Heather Wakefield on Council Workers' Pay

A quick plug for another blog.

Heather Wakefield, UNISON's National Secretary for Local Government has written about the current pay negotiations for council staff on the Public Finance website. You can find it here.

Well worth a read for anyone who wants to know the real facts about council workers' pay. One sentence in the last paragraph of her piece gives the most food for thought. It's reproduced below.

"After all, who could really say that a Goldman Sachs trader is worth more than those who feed and educate children, house the homeless and care for the vulnerable elderly?"

Indeed.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Politics Show Piece on Agency Workers and Consultants Costs

Here is the 4 minute piece the BBC East Midlands Politics Show did on agency workers and consultants last Sunday. Someone has helpfully uploaded it onto You-Tube.



And here is the studio debate.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

How low can they get?

Today, Notts County Council sent out a letter to all staff telling them there would be cuts to their terms and conditions which they will say will save £2.9m a year. The letter, from Chief Executive, Mick Burrows (who was on holiday in Egypt at the time) said "the proposals in this letter have been shared with the trade unions as part of the formal consultation"

FACT 1 - the first UNISON knew of this letter was on Wednesday evening when the Nottingham Evening Post got hold of a leaked copy of the letter and contacted UNISON for a comment.

FACT 2 - the contents of the letter were never shared with UNISON before it was sent.

FACT 3 - the county council told the media that the unions were going to be briefed on the proposals on the evening of 14 October.

FACT 4 - no such briefing ever took place

FACT 5 - this morning UNISON formally advised the council that they were misrepresenting the sitation and asked for them to issue a retraction.

FACT 6 - Kay Cutts, Leader of the Council appeared on Radio Nottingham at just after 5pm and said that the information had been shared with the unions.

How can anyone have faith in the council to manage anything effectively when they continue to misrepresent the truth?

Why is it that home care workers, teaching assistants, librarians and other hard working council staff are being asked to pay for the mistakes of the greedy bankers who caused this recession?

One of the first acts of the newly elected Tory administration at Notts County Council was to create extra cabinet posts for their cronies adding £168,000 to the cabinet wage bill. It is outrageous that they create lucrative cabinet posts for themselves whilst cutting the terms of the people who actually deliver the services.

The council spend £19m they on agency workers which is the highest figures for any council in the East Midlands. If they implemented some proper management controls they could easily save at least 10 per cent, which would go a long way towards the required £2.9m saving.

We fear that this is an attempt to soften up our members before the council attack jobs and services. Read more about the proposals on the Nottingham Evening Post website. UNISON members should rest assured the Notts County UNISON branch will be mounting a vigorous campaign against these outrageous cuts. Watch this space and the branch's website for more info.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Those FOI figures in full

We are finally able to publish the results of what we have uncovered from our Freedom of Information requests on how much councils spend on agency workers and consultants.

The headline figures are that councils in the region spent more than a whopping £150m on these areas. And that does not include Derby City Council consultant costs or Northamptonshire County Council agency worker and consultant costs as these two councils refused to give us the info saying their systems did not allow them to access this information easily!

If you want to see the figures for all councils in the East Midlands click
here.

We are sure that like us, you will be staggered by the wide range of figures – and the potential savings that can be made.

All we are asking councils to do is to set up some proper management and control mechanisms to control these costs. Corby Council managed to reduce their costs in these areas from £3.1m to £1.1 in three years. If you want to see more details read
this report sent to their Overview and Scrutiny Committee in July this year. If they can do it – so can others. UNISON have produced an action plan for councils on how to reduce their costs in these areas. Click here to see a copy.

Corby did very well cutting costs by over 50%. We don;t expect all councils to do as well, but if councils could save just a modest 10 per cent of their costs, that would be £15m to put into frontline services. The equivalent to around 1,000 homecare workers; or 1,000 teaching assistants.

UNISON says “cut waste, not services.”

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Campaign kicks off on the BBC

Our campaign against councils wasting money on agency workers and consultants kicked off today with a 11 minute piece on the East Midlands Politics Show. There is a 4 minute filmed piece giving details of what our research has uncovered followed by a 7 minute studio debate, with Ravi Subramanian, UNISON's regional head of local government, with the deputy leader of Wellingborough Council and Cllr John Boyce, the leader of Oadby and Wigston Council.

If you want to see the show, click on the East Midlands Politics Show and then watch the latest episode on the iPlayer. You'll have to be quick though as the show on the iPlayer will be replaced next Sunday. You will need to slide the controller to 31 mins and 10 secs to catch the start of the piece.

Did Ravi make our case that councils can be saving money on agency workers and consultants; or did the politicians persuade you it was all a good use of taxpayers' money?

Friday, 9 October 2009

Cut waste - not services

This weekend sees the launch of our campaign to highlight the fact that many councils are wasting money needlessly on agency workers and consultants. We have made Freedom of Information requests to all 45 councils in the East Midlands asking how much they spend on agency workers and consultants and we are now ready to expose our findings through the media.

There should be an article about agency workers and consultants' costs in the Nottingham Evening Post on Saturday, followed by a piece on the BBC East Midlands Politics Show.


Then, from Monday, we are are hoping for some coverage in the regional press, local TV and radio. We will be publishing the agency worker and consultants' costs on this blog sometime late on Monday. So if you want to know how much your council spent keep an eye on the blog.

We can assure you that you will raise your eyebrows at some of the costs. The Tories say there needs to be cuts to services and wage freezes to "balance the books." Our findings show that councils shave plenty of scope to be cutting waste rather than jobs and services.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Boris defends bankers

In a recent speech Boris Johnson defended the bankers who were the prime cause of the economic crises we are now in. It's perhaps not surprising that a man who makes so many gaffes could be so out of touch with popular public opinion. If anyone had forgotten, Boris has given the country a timely reminder that the Tory Party's primary aim is to look after the interests of their friends in the city over anything or anyone else.

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Lord Oakeshott said: "Boris Johnson is the unacceptable face of capitalism. He wants low taxes and light regulation for the bankers who brought Britain to its knees and 'compassionate cuts' for everyone else."

The country is in a financial mess because of the greed of a few - and it is for this reason UNISON launched its Million Voices for Change campaign demaning social justice, good jobs and quality public services. If you've not signed up yet - please do.

The East Midlands region had its own regional launch of the campaign this weekend at the Branch Officer Training Weekend where over 100 activists were being trained. The campaign was kicked off with a fantastic group photo of the activists, their families and UNISON staff. The photo will be posted up on this blog and the Million Voices website as soon as we get a copy.

Councils facing cuts across the country

A blog called UNISON Active, run by a group of UNISON activists, has written about cuts facing councils across the country. See here for more info.

UNISON members working in local government up and down the country need to be ready to fight and make the case for the vital services they provide.

In a few days time the East Midlands region will be kicking of a media campaign by publishing the first part of information uncovered through Freedom of Information requests made to all 45 councils in the region. We will be starting with information on the money spent by councils on agency workers and consultants. Some of it makes for very interesting reading.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Has council chiefs' pay got "out of hand?"

Today, Communities Secretary, John Denham had a go about council chief executives’ pay, telling the Labour party conference it has “got out of hand”. He re-iterated his pledge to reign in “boomerang bosses”, chief executives who pocket a pay-off from one job before popping up in another shortly after, and said he wanted to limit the “pension entitlements of the very highest earners” in local government.

UNISON have no problem with Chief Executives being well rewarded - many of them are UNISON members and they work hard serving their communities. But if Chief Executives are to be well rewarded, it is only fair that the staff who deliver the frontline services are well rewarded too.
At the end of the day public services are not delivered by well paid managers, but by modestly paid people like home care workers, housing officers, envirnmental health officers, refuse collectors and school meals workers. If managers are getting inflation busting pay rises, then so should the workers who deliver the services.

But over the past ten years the pay of Chief Executives (and other senior managers) has galloped ahead of the rate of inflation, whilst front line workers have struggled to see their pay match inflation.

Do readers of this blog think Chief Executives’ pay has “got out of hand,” as John Denham puts it? Well you will all be able to make your mind up soon as in a few weeks we will be publishing the results of our Freedom of Information requests to all 45 councils in the East Midlands where we asked for the salary of their Chief Executive. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Big Business Fleecing the Public Sector

As Nick Clegg, Leader of the Lib-Dems tries to outdo David Cameron about the "savage cuts" he wants to inflict on the public sector, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has concluded that some big construction firms have been engaged in illegal anti-competitive bid-rigging activities. Most of these tenders were in the public sector so it was the taxpayer that was ripped off. The OFT has imposed fines totalling £129.5 million.

From the OFT's own press release:

Cover pricing is where one or more bidders in a tender process obtains an artificially high price from a competitor. Such cover bids are priced so as not to win the contract but are submitted as genuine bids, which gives a misleading impression to clients as to the real extent of competition. This distorts the tender process and makes it less likely that other potentially cheaper firms are invited to tender. In 11 tendering rounds, the lowest bidder faced no genuine competition because all other bids were cover bids, leading to an even greater risk that the client may have unknowingly paid a higher price. The OFT also found six instances where successful bidders had paid an agreed sum of money to the unsuccessful bidder (known as a 'compensation payment'). These payments of between £2,500 and £60,000 were facilitated by the raising of false invoices. The infringements affected building projects across England worth in excess of £200 million including schools, universities hospitals, and numerous private projects from the construction of apartment blocks to housing refurbishments. Eighty-six out of the 103 firms received reductions in their penalties because they admitted their involvement in cover pricing prior to today's decision.

A total of £129.5 million in fines have been imposed. That sounds like a lot of money but it is peanuts for most of these firms. To see a list of the firms and the fines imposed see here on the OFT website. One of the firms was Balfour Beatty which had a turnover of about £3.5bn when the offence took place, and was fined £5.2m - or less than 0.2 per cent of their turnover. This is hardly a punitive fine likely to deter future similar behaviour. If a UNISON member had been caught defrauding the public they would lose their job but big business hardly suffers more than a tiny pin prick.

Big business has behaved illegally and stolen money from the public sector - money that could be better spent on much needed public services. Why are the so called Taxpayers' Alliance and their friends in the Tory Party silent about this? Surely they are outraged that the taxpayer is being ripped off?

The private sector is often held up as virtuous and efficient with the public sector being wicked and wasteful. It wasn't public sector workers that created this financial crisis. So they shouldn't be punished - and neither should the communities that they serve.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Outsourcing - an undemocratic option that destroys local economies

Richard Wachman wrote an article in The Guardian earlier this week (see here) suggesting that councils may resort to outsourcing as a way of saving money in difficult times. It might seem to be an easy answer for councils. But If outsourcing is the answer, then councils are asking the wrong question.

There are may reasons to oppose outsourcing - reduction in service levels, loss of democratic accountability, the costs of monitoring contracts, lack of flexibility in contracts - but perhaps one of the least discussed, but most potent reasons, is that of the negative impact on the local economy.

Contractors who win procurement contracts tend to make their profit by driving down the wages of the staff employed by them. Either that, or they re-locate their work to a different part of the country. Either way this has a negative impact on the local economy as there is less money to spent locally. So councils who outsource services, risk working against their economic development objectives - and developing the local economy is a fundamental function of any council.

APSE (the Association of Public Service Excellence) have produced a publication that backs up the argument against outsourcing. Earlier this year APSE produced a guide to "insourcing" where councils have brought services back in house after failed outsourcing ventures. In APSE's own words:

"APSE’s latest research ‘Insourcing: A guide to bringing local authority services back in-house’ explores the growing trend of local authorities insourcing services that have previously been outsourced. Looking at the pragmatic reasons that councils have taken to return services to in-house provision this publication looks at a number of issues. It demonstrates the benefits that can be achieved from insourcing. These include: better performance; increased public satisfaction; greater value for money; efficiency savings; responding positively to changing policies and challenges; joining up services coherently at neighbourhood level; helping meet strategic goals, such as tackling climate change; and boosting local employment and economic development."

You can order the report here - it makes very interesting reading. All councillors should read this report before they decide to outsource.

What local communities need is publicly run, democratically accountable, high quality services run by people who live in the communities they serve. Outsourcing cannot deliver on these requirements.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Slash and burn

Heather Wakefield, UNISON's National Secretary for Local Government has written a very timely piece about the dangers of council service cuts on the Public Finance website. You can find it here.

It's well worth a read as it sets out the case very well, for not cutting council services and making sure we live up to being a civilised society, providing high quality public services at a time of real need.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Leicestershire County Council to cut £70 million

The budget cuts announcements continue.......

On 2 September Leicestershire County Council said it will have to make £70 million of savings over the next four years.
No decisions have been taken on where savings will come from, but the Council says they are caused by an expected reduction in Government grant, an intention to hold down Council Tax and higher costs and demands.

Major efficiency savings and significant job losses are expected, but nearly half the cost is likely to come from reductions in services and higher charges. The Council says:
• it has pledged to freeze Council Tax from 2011/12 to 2013/14
• staff have been informed that significant job losses are expected, but at this stage it is not possible to say how many
• more than 50 per cent of the budget reduction will come from efficiency savings, but nearly half will need to come from service reductions and higher charges for some services.

The Cabinet and the Council's Scrutiny Commission will discuss the situation this month (September) and public consultation will be staged later this year, before more detailed plans are considered by the full County Council budget meeting in February 2010.

Before any council thinks about budget cuts it needs to take a good close look at where it might be wasting money. The UNISON East Midlands Regional Office has made a series of Freedom of Information requests to councils and we will be publishing the results soon and we will all be able to see if councils are wasting money on agency workers and consultants.

If these cuts go through there is no doubt there will be an impact on front line services. The local Leicestershire County UNISON branch will be campaigning against these cuts and if you want to assist contact the branch office on 0116 305 6153 or you can e-mail them on unison@leics.gov.uk

If like UNISON, you are worried about these proposals and you are a resident of Leicestershire you should write to your County Councillor and David Parsons, the Leader of the Council to say why you are opposed to these cuts. You can find details of who your County Councillor is here.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Barnet Council - worrying developments

In mid August the Financial Times reported that leading Tory councils are planning radical cuts. One example given was in Barnet, north London, where spending is being cut on local parks, libraries, welfare rights advice and sheltered housing. All of these are vital services that benefit the most vulnerable in our society. You can read the full FT article here. It makes grim reading. But these cuts can fought off, if council workers get organised.

Only last week The Guardian reported that Barnet Council will be using the budget airlines, EasyJet and Ryanair as a model for how council services will be run. You can read about it more here. Basically it means the council will provide a very basic minimum service and residents will have to pay more for any additional services.

It is astonishing anyone would want to ape the practices of Ryanair. They are famously anti trade union (see here) and their business practices are controversial (see here). The suggestion that councils will only provide a very basic service and make people pay for additional services is a disgraceful way of further marginalising the most vulnerable in society.

Whilst Barnet might not be a council in the East Midlands, what is going on there is relevant to UNISON members in this region. What we do know is that ideas like those at Barnet can rapidly gain supporters in the rest of the country and we need to be ready to fight any such ludicrous proposals. Over the coming weeks we will be telling you what you can do to play your part in keeping vital public services running. Three simple things you can do are below:

1. The first thing we need to do is to maximise the number of people in the union. So if you are not a UNISON member, join now. You can call 0845 355 0845 or join online here.

2. If you are already member of UNISON then you need to encourage your colleagues to join UNISON.

3. If your workplace does not have a rep of contact point contact your branch office (if you don't know the number call 0845 355 0845) and volunteer to become a contact or rep.

Successful campaigns come from having a loud voice with strong union membership, and a good network of contacts and stewards to spread the word. Make sure you play your part in defending vital services.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A Million Voices for Change

UNISON nationally, is running "A Million Voices for Change" campaign. We want to see changes that put people before profit and public interest before private greed.

Public service workers are on the frontline of dealing with this recession - helping people in financial difficulties, guiding people back into work, creating new opportunities through education and training, dealing with increased rates of homelessness, family breakdown, and mental health problems.

The regional "Local Government Matters" campaign is a part of the wider Million Voices for Change campaign that cuts across the whole of the public sector, including the NHS; police; higher and further education; probation and CAFCASS.

We want to make sure our members get the support and the resources they need to help people through hard times and lay the foundations of our economic recovery. That's why we are running the Million Voices for Change campaign.

UNISON has more than a million members delivering essential services to the public. Services that protect, enrich and change lives.So if you are UNISON member, or just a concerned member of the public sign up now - add your voice to our million voices for change

Friday, 7 August 2009

Why Join A Union?


It is self evident from this blog why anyone working in local government should join UNISON. It's easy see the problems we face in the coming months, but it's also worth reflecting upon the things unions have achieved over the years.

UNISON colleagues in the West Midlands region have produced a video to enter into a TUC competition. Click on the YouTube link to see the video - and if you like please leave some comments. then tell your colleagues, friends and neighbours to watch it. Hopefully they will then understand what unions have achieved and how they have benefited from the battles that unions have fought.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

£40m cuts at Notts County Council

Last week we reported potential jobs cuts in schools in Leicester and now we have the even more worrying news of the Leader of Notts County Council saying that she wants to cut £40m from the budget. This is an alarming amount – double the amount that neighbouring Nottingham City Council have cut from their budget this year.

If these cuts go through there is no doubt there will be an impact on front line services. The local Nottinghamshire County UNISON branch will be campaigning against these cuts and if you want to assist contact the branch office on 0115 981 0405 or you can e-mail them on:
branch.office@nottsunison.org.uk.

And their website is here.

If like UNISON, you are worried about these proposals and you are a resident of Nottinghamshire you should write to your County Councillor and Kay Cutts, the Leader of the Council to say why you are opposed to these cuts. You can find details of who your County Councillor is here.

There is more information on this story on the Nottingham Evening Post website here.

And finally if you work in local government and you are not a UNISON member, you need to join now, Leicester and Nottinghamshire are not the only councils who will be hit by cuts. The more people in the union, the stronger the voice we will have in fighting any cuts.