Sunday, 31 January 2010

Little known fact #5

One of the directors of the so called TaxPayers' Alliance does not even pay tax in the UK. The Guardian has reported that Alexander Heath, a director of the rightwing lobby group, lives in a farmhouse in the Loire and has not paid British tax for years!

On top of this the TaxPayers' Alliance are under investigation by the Charity Commission for improperly claiming tax relief.

They have unbelievable cheek to claim they are speaking on behalf of tax-payers.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Column in the Leicester Mercury about budget cuts

Yesterday the Leicester Mercury published a column from UNISON Regional Head of Local Government, Ravi Subramanian, about the budget cuts at Leicester City Council and Leicestershire County Council. The article is reproduced below.

As UNISON members prepare to fight both Leicestershire County Council and the city council over savage cuts to services it is important to set the scene in a wider context.

The public sector has not been immune from the impact of the recession and councils have been hit particularly hard. Over the past year over 1,000 jobs have been lost at councils in the East Midlands, with thousands more being lost nationally. It now looks like 500 more council jobs could be lost this year in Leicestershire alone.

This isn’t union scaremongering. The Chartered Institute for Personnel Development have estimated nationally there will be 30,000 job cuts in councils in the this year. The cuts will go further than efficiency measures and natural wastage and they will have an impact on levels of service.

Those with a political axe to grind claim money could be saved by deleting "non jobs", But when asked to identify such jobs they can’t. The reality is the workforce is engaged in delivering vital services to our communities, caring for the most vulnerable; keeping our public buildings clean and safe; and providing services that befit a civilised society.

Public sector workers are members of the local community too. If they are made jobless, aside from then needing to claim state benefits, they have less money to spend in the local economy which has a knock on effect in the community.

As councils prepare to wield the knife on the very services that are keeping our communities together in these difficult times, people need to understand what council workers really do. Some little known facts about the local government workforce are:

** over 70% are women
** about half of these women are in low paid, part time jobs, such as catering, care work and cleaning
** the hourly pay rate for those in caring roles is similar to a supermarket worker

Admin posts are an easy target to take pot shots at, but these jobs are necessary. For example, having admin workers means skilled social workers can best use their time and skills to work with families and children. The same applies across a range of professions such as planning, environmental health, engineering and law.

The recession has meant a fall in demand for some council services, such as planning and building control. But in other, more labour intensive areas, demand has increased. In a recession there are more people claiming housing benefit, more needing welfare rights advice, more free school meals are needed and there is an increased demand on social services.

Over the past four years councils have been required to make four per cent year-on-year efficiency savings, whilst having to provide increasing levels of service. Rather than make savage service cuts, UNISON wants councils to reduce their unnecessary expenditure on agency workers and consultants - between them the city and county councils spend £39m.

The city council have listened to UNISON and have plans to implement proper control measures. We are hoping the county council will follow suit. UNISON believes both could easily save 10 per cent of what they currently spend if they implemented proper control measures and that would save nearly £4m that could be better used to protect frontline services.

Times are tough for everyone including council workers. In tough times the public sector is even more important as the most vulnerable in our communities need extra support. Hard pressed council workers are now expected to deal with greater demand with fewer resources. That’s why UNISON has launched its "Million Voices for Change" campaign for a fairer society and decent public services for all. To join our campaign go to our website.

Monday, 25 January 2010

The Perfect Pay Storm

Heather Wakefield, UNISON's National Secretary for Local Government has written on her Public Finance blog about the pay freeze being "offered" to council workers this year.

Heather is the union's lead negotiator on local government pay and it is well worth seeing what she has to say. You can read her article here.

The article makes the case that Council workers are hardly well paid now, and that councils have the money to pay a decent pay award, as oppose to the effective pay cut that is now on offer. The whole article is worth reading but a few key points that are worth repeating are:

** Over a quarter of a million employees are on the bottom three pay points, earning less that £12,500 a year for a full-time worker. A staggering 61% earn below £18,000.

** In 2008/09, the average lowest pay point across all the largest public sector bargaining groups was £13,481. For the largest local government group covering 1.4 million workers within the NJC for Local Government Services, it was £11,995.

** Non-school reserves in local authorities in England rose from £5.5bn in 2002 to £12.75bn in 2009, despite councils submitting budgets saying that they would need to draw on reserves, rather than increase them.

Councils should not use the financial mess caused by greedy bankers to punish hard working council workers, especially when it is clear councils have the money for a decent pay offer.

Little known fact #4

The employer contribution rate for the Local Government Pension Scheme is 13.6%. In the private sector the comparable employer contribution average is 15.6%. Many employers are paying a high overall contribution to the scheme because of past underfunding and contribution holidays

Sunday, 24 January 2010

UNISON find £28m for Notts County Council

Notts County Council claim they have to make £33.3m of budget cuts because they have money problems.

Last week UNISON submitted our formal response to the council identifying £28.09m of "easy money" for the council, meaning less than £5.3m of cuts that will be needed to balance the 2010/11 budget. This is a level of cuts that could easily be achieved without any job losses or impact upon services.

The £28.08m we have identified is a responsible and accurately costed set of proposals - if you want to see our proposals click here.

Little known fact #3

Another in our series of little known facts about about council workers, the services they provide and the public services in general. This time a fact about the public sector in general, which should give pause for thought to all those in the private sector who are calling for cuts in the public sector.

Research by The Association of Public Service Excellence found that for every pound spent by public sector employers 64 pence is recycled to local businesses.

Council Workers' Pay Freeze

Last week the Local Government Employers announced that they would not be offering any pay rise for council workers; effectively a pay cut.

The UNISON Active blog has
detailed analysis of the offer. Readers of this blog would do well to read this post on the UNISON Active blog to get a rounded view of the the offer and how it might be responded to.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Notts County Council reverse £4.6m of cuts

Today the Nottingham Evening Post reported that Notts County Council have decided to reverse £4.6m of their proposed £33.3m of cuts. Some of the reversals in the proposals are:

** Residential care - original savings of £1.6 million will only be £800,000
** Meals - currently cost £2.35 a meal and it was proposed to increase them to £3.95 - this has been revised to £3.00.
** Welfare Rights - originally proposed to cut by £250,000 now proposing to cut by £150,000.
** Sale of residential care homes - Cllr Mel Shepherd, cabinet member for adults, social care and health, also said planned sale of the council's 13 residential care homes was unlikely to be carried out in the next financial year.

We are delighted that the council have started to listen to what we are saying. The reversal of £4.6m of the cuts is to be welcomed. But as we have demonstrated the council have the scope to reverse a further £19m of cuts to protect vital services for the most vulnerable. The people of Nottinghamshire are counting on them to do the right thing.

This has only been possible by vigorous campaigning making use of excellent local government finance advice from head office, coordination the media and external campaign by the regional office and relentless workplace activity by the branch.

A formal response from UNISON to the consultation will be submitted by Friday 22 January and we hope that the council will listen to what we have to say as we believe they can prevent nearly all of the propose service cuts.

We will post the formal response on this blog in due course.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Notts County Council accept UNISON's claim they will have up to £2m extra income

As part of a vigorous campaign to challenge the savage £33m of cuts at Notts County Council, UNISON wrote to the Chief Executive raising a number of issues in the council's budget proposals.

One of the issues was the council's failure to take any account for the increase in council tax revenue from the simple fact that more houses would be built in Notts over the next year.

Today the Nottingham Evening Post reported that the council would receive up to £2m more income that they had expected and this was only revealed after UNISON had written to the Chief Executive. Although the council accepted they would receive more income, ominously the report in the paper said:

"Council bosses say no decision has yet been made on what the council might do with the cash."

Now we've shown them that they will have up to £2m extra income it remains to be seen if they will use the money to protect vital services for the vulnerable. You can be sure we will be pressing them to do the right thing.

Watch this space for more news.

UNISON leaders speak up on the Local Government Pension Scheme

Readers of this blog may have spotted this story on the BBC website that says that pension funds improved sharply in December.

The story followed the attack on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) by the Liberal Democrats attacking our pension scheme in the run up to the election. The press release from the Department of Communities and Local Government CLG about that attack said this:

" This story does not stand up to scrutiny. Claims about the size of a deficit for the local government pension scheme are pure speculation. This year's valuation of the fund has not been carried out yet and is legally required to be based on market levels at the end of March - no one has any accurate way of knowing what that will be. There are regulations in place to ensure the scheme remains fair, solvent, protected against risk, and affordable to the taxpayer - these rules also ensure that any deficits identified in the valuation cannot be passed on directly to council tax payers”

It’s becoming clear that we public sector workers face a real threat to our pension schemes if the Tories get elected at the general election or if they form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Both these parties have called for cuts to our pensions and some have called for the schemes to be closed to new entrants and for final salary schemes to be replaced with defined contribution schemes. So far Labour have resisted any such attacks. Minister John Healey said in May 2009 that a defined contribution scheme would result in the average pension for a local Government worker reducing from it’s current £4,000 to about £1,000.

UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said:

“There is a lot of rubbish spoken about public sector pensions and the Liberal Democrats are recycling some of that in an attempt to scaremonger. It is wrong to say that all councils have mismanaged their pension funds. Only a few years years ago, the local government pension scheme was reviewed and UNISON and the local government employers agreed a scheme that is fair, affordable and sustainable.

Local government workers pay more than 6 per cent of their wages into their pension scheme, to save for their retirement. The majority of scheme members are low paid women workers, and the average pension for them is under £40 a week – hardly a gold-plated pension. If these workers didn’t save for their pensions, they’d be forced on to means tested state benefits.

The real pensions scandal in this country is that the boardroom fat cats vote each other ludicrously generous retirement packages, while plotting to cut the pensions of their workforce.”

Chris Tansley
Chair UNISON Local Government Service Group Executive

Monday, 18 January 2010

Little known fact #2

Next in our series of little known facts about about council workers, the services they provide and the public services in general.

Around 1.5 million people work in adult social care in the UK - more than the NHS

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Conservatives think UNISON are running a good campaign against cuts in Nottinghamshire

Ravi Subramanian, Regional Head of Local Government, wrote an article in the Nottingham Evening Post a few weeks ago showing Notts County Council that they did not really have to make £33m of services cuts as UNISON had found over £24m for them.

Grassroots Conservative website Conservative Home, seems to have got a little upset at his suggestion of a responsible approach to Council Tax, calling for a modest 3% rise to help protect vital services for the most vulnerable in our communities in these very difficult times.

All predictable stuff, but the best part was where one of the Tory supporters on the site commented:

"I live within Nottinghamshire................ UNISON is running a fairly high profile campaign in the county"

It's always great when an opponent thinks a campaign is being well run. If he thinks the campaign is "fairly high profile" at the moment, wait until he sees what we have in store in the next few weeks - watch this space.

A Victory on Chief Executive's Pay

Back in November we launched our campaign to end the veil of secrecy of Chief Executive's pay. We made a series of Freedom of Information requests to councils asking exactly how much their Chief Executive was paid - and what their expenses were.

If you click on the link here you will see the summary of what we found.

Some councils gave us the full details and other gave us only salary ranges. Northamptonshire County Council was one of the councils that only gave us a salary range.

However, we are pleased to report that they have listened to our pleas for transparency and have published full details on their website here.

We congratulate them on listening to us - it is now the turn of the other councils to follow their lead. If they don't then you can rest assured we will be making some noise about it.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Little known fact #1

Local Government workers are regularly portrayed in a negative and unfair light by the media. We are starting a series of posts of "Little Known Facts" to counter the myths about council workers, the services they provide and the public services in general. Here's the first one:

Every week more people visit a library than attend football matches or go to the cinema

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Leicester City Council to cut £19m

Leicester City Council have reported that they will be making £17m of cuts and cutting up to 270 jobs. We can't give a detailed analysis of the budget proposals at the moment as we've only recently received the budget papers. But we will be asking the council some searching questions.

What we can say from a quick glance at the report is that the council, unlike neighboring Leicestershire County Council, have not opted for a council tax freeze, which will at lead help mitigate against some of the cuts.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the East Midlands region of UNISON has been campaigning strongly for councils to better control their expenditure on agency workers and consultants. Whilst the budget proposals are obviously alarming - and need further analysis - it is pleasing to see the following sentence in the budget report:

"The Council will significantly curtail its spending on agency staff and external consultants."

A few councils, including Nottingham City Council, have started to take action on this matter now we've raised it - we need more to follow their lead.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

More on the Bad Numbers in The Sunday Times

We reported here on this blog about the recent Sunday Times report that misrepresented statistics to allegedly show that “public sector workers earn 7% more on average than their peers in the private sector — a pay gulf that has more than doubled since the recession began.”

The TUC Touchstone had a
blog post demolishing the flawed basis on which the Sunday Times had used its statistics to make its argument.

Now Ben Goldacre has weighed in with a damming criticism of the Sunday Time story in his Bad Science column in the Guardian.

Ben is a medical doctor and all round good egg, who campaigns relentlessly to debunk quackery, bad science and misused statistics. His excellent book Bad Science exposes the quackery that passes itself off as science. An extract from the description on Amazon is:

Guardian columnist Dr Ben Goldacre takes us on a hilarious, invigorating and informative journey through the bad science we're fed by the worst of the hacks and the quacks! When Dr Ben Goldacre saw someone on daytime TV dipping her feet in an 'Aqua Detox' footbath, releasing her toxins into the water and turning it brown, he thought he'd try the same at home. 'Like some kind of Johnny Ball cum Witchfinder General', using his girlfriend's Barbie doll, he gently passed an electrical current through the warm salt water. It turned brown. In his words: 'before my very eyes, the world's first Detox Barbie was sat, with her feet in a pool of brown sludge, purged of a weekend's immorality.'

In his book, Ben exposes the way that the mainstream media misreport science either through ignorance, or deliberately just to get sensational headlines. Amongst other things, he exposes quacks who use pseudo science, debunks claims that omega-3 capsules will make your children smarter and explains how drug companies fiddle drug trials so they can sell more of their drugs.

If you've not read it, you really should. It will make you howl with laughter and gasp in horror in equal measure. His Bad Science blog is a great read too.

Exposing drug companies who fiddle drug trials for their own gain may seem a long way off from a newspaper article about the public sector pay. But both relate to powerful vested interests who are working for the benefit of the privileged few at the cost of the majority.

It's heartening to see Ben's scientifically trained, incisive mind cut through the nonsense of the Sunday Times article with surgical precision.

What a no frills council really looks like

We've reported in the past about Tory run Barnet council who want to implement a "no frills" EasyJet system for council services, where residents get a very basic service and then pay for any extra services on top.

It does not take a genius to work out that this will mean the most vulnerable will not be able to afford to pay the top up charges - and they will be left to suffer.

A UNISON activist has taken a photo using the current snowy weather to illustrate the point very well.

David Cameron's Tories

Some cheeky scamps have set up a website called MyDavidCameron.Com where they have modified the recent Conservative Party billboard posters featuring David Cameron attempting to reassure voters about his intentions.

They've done several parodies around the NHS and the Conservative plans to cut inheritance tax for the rich. If you click here you can see them. The site also gives links to other websites that give a detailed analysis of the Conservative's position on public services.

The site also allows people to download the poster and do their own versions of the poster.
Here in the Local Government Matters bunker we just could not resist the opportunity to do our own version of the poster. Readers of the blog will know about the £33m of cuts proposed at Notts County Council, despite UNISON proving conclusively there is at least £24m of "easy money" to be found, possibly more.

Whilst it is certainly amusing to parody the Cameron posters, no-one should lose sight of the very serious message about the intentions of Conservative councils and a future Conservative government.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Social Workers' stress epidemic feared

Chris Tansley is one of our region's reps on UNISON social care forum . Chris has been campaigning hard for a better and fairer deal for social workers. Here he writes about his concerns for the profession and the need for the recommendations of the recent Social Work Taskforce to be implemented.

I don’t know if this article in the Guardian on New Years day was spotted by members but it threw up some disturbing but well known issues to for our social worker members.

It came from Birmingham one of the UK’s biggest social work departments and said that social work staff are signed off sick for an average of 24.9 days a year – nearly three times the average for other staff. The head of the Department Colin Tucker said he was raising the issue to raise awareness in the public of the extreme pressures that social workers were under following the Baby Peter case.

Just one team in Aston was now dealing with a staggering 700 new referrals a month as outside agencies react to the aftermath of the Baby Peter case by referring any and every concern they have about vulnerable children in the community.

All this comes on top of social workers saying they face increased levels of hostility in the community because of the bad press stirred up by irresponsible parts of the gutter press like the Sun who launched a vicious campaign against social workers with no thought about how this would react in communities and the effects it would have on the already immensely difficult task social workers have in protecting vulnerable children.

UNISON has been in the forefront of saying to Government and Employers that the high caseloads, high vacancy levels and increased demands of an inflexible computer programme system of recording were having on the stress levels of our social worker members. It is precisely these high stress levels that have led to the sickness rates that Birmingham and other Authorities are experiencing.

Towards the end of 2009 the Government seemed to be listening. It fully accepted the task force (which UNISON was a part of) recommendations which largely mirrored UNISON's own set of proposals in our 10 point plan. But it needs to start doing a great deal more and urgently if we are going to restore social work as a profession that gets the respect it deserves and social workers get the support they desperately need to undertake what must be one of the most difficult and challenging jobs around.

If they don’t and the situation continues to be held at the low levels of esteem it reached in 2009 we will be looking at a profession in terminal decline and what that means for the most vulnerable in our society who so desperately need the skills of social workers doesn’t bear thinking about

Chris Tansley
Chair Unison National Social Care Forum

Nottingham City Council anounce £17m cuts

Just before Christmas Nottingham City Council added to the list of councils making big cuts, with the announcement that it plans to cut £17m. The full report to the cabinet outlining the proposals can be found here and here.

The council say they need to make £17.2m of cuts. There are some interesting differences between the situations at Nottingham City Council and neighbouring Notts County Council (who are proposing £33m in cuts).

Firstly, unlike the county council, the city are proposing to put up council tax, by a modest 2.9%. Contrast that with the council tax freeze at the county council.

Secondly, the city council are predicting a £3m overspend in the current financial year, wheres as the county council are predicting a £10.4m underspend, but are stuffing £5m of this into reserves.

Thirdly, the county council have big reserves - over £24m in unallocated reserves and they have plenty of scope to use some of the reserves to support the budget. Whereas the city council have £7.9m in unallocated reserves, which gives them less scope to use them to support the budget.

That said, the scale of the cuts is alarming and there is no doubt, if implemented, they will result in cuts to frontline services. Despite the differences in the positions at the city and county councils UNISON will still be subjecting the city council's budget proposals and accounts to the same forensic scrutiny.

Last year the branch had a high profile campaign against similar cuts that were proposed last year. Whilst they were not able to prevent all of the job losses, their vigorous campaigning meant that very few people were made compulsorily redundant. The branch also pioneered the use of billboards to get their message across - a successful technique that has been copied this year by the Notts County branch.

And you can be sure that the branch will mount another high profile campaign this year.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Notts County Council cuts have nothing to do with money

We've reported previously about the savage £33m cuts proposed by Notts County Council and we've always maintained that the Tory run council's assertion that they do not have the money and need to make £33m of cuts was a false assertion.

We've been working closely with colleagues at the national office to unpick the council's budget proposals and analyse the council's accounts. We've also asked some searching questions of the council. Today, Ravi Subramanian, UNISON's Regional Head of Local Government, had an article published in the Nottingham Evening Post which demolished the council's position that they don't have the money. His article identified over £24m of "easy money" for the council - and it hinted that there could be more money that could be identified. The text of the article is reproduced below.

On 25 February, Tory run Notts County Council will take the final decision on the 2010/11 budget. We’ve done a lot of work looking at the council’s accounts and we’ve asked questions in three separate letters to the Chief Executive. He’s only replied to one letter but even still, we can make some sensible suggestions on how the council can save money and protect services.

The consultation closes on 22 January and UNISON will provide a formal response. In the meantime we’d like to share some of our suggestions with Post readers.

Here is a quick reminder of some of the council’s proposals. Over 400 jobs will go; day care transport costs will go up £1.85 a day, meal costs will go up £1.60 a day and a day care which is currently free, will go up to £4 a day.

Services like welfare rights are being slashed and the county contact centres are being closed. Also a “home place parking levy” of £50 for residential parking is being brought in.

All of this because the Tory council claim there is a £33m gap in their budget. It’s not really the job of a trade union to find budget savings for them, but if they can’t do it, we will. Below are our suggestions.

Firstly raising council tax by a modest 3 per cent will raise £9m. The weekly cost would be 46p for a band A house rising to £1.37 for a Band H house. Many vulnerable people will be forced to pay over £10 a week with the current proposals. Surely less than the price of a cup of coffee is not a lot to ask to protect them?

Secondly, there is a predicted under spend this year of £10.4m. Astonishingly, whilst claiming a lack of money, the council have decided to put £5.4m of this under spend into reserves. They should use all of the £10.4m under spend to protect vital services.

Thirdly, the council has reserves of over £150m of which £24m are unallocated. Reserves are there to help in hard times. In a recession public services are needed more, not less. The council should use £2m of reserves to help in these difficult times.

Fourthly, the council spent over £19m on agency workers last year; the highest spend of all East Midlands councils. If they implement proper management measures they could easily save 10 per cent, which comes to £1.9m.

Fifthly, the council’s predictions assume there will be no increase council tax base, i.e. the increase in revenue because of newly built homes. Growth of new homes has slowed dramatically, but it has not stopped. Using nationally available figures we predict a modest growth in the tax base of 0.5 per cent. This gives an additional £1.5m.

Sixthly, the council created extra cabinet posts after the June elections. The council should scrap these unnecessary extra posts. Also the council recently advertised for a “spin doctor”, sorry, that should be “Service Director of Communications”. They should not appoint to this post while they are making budget cuts. These two items would save over £130,000.

The above items come to over £24m. We are still working on our proposals and we believe we can identify at least another £3m, especially if the Chief Executive actually replies to our two outstanding letters.

The council say they don’t have enough money and the cuts are necessary. We’ve done the work for them and shown how to save at least £24m, perhaps more. This may not be the full £33m, but it will go a long way to protecting services.

The council has the chance to reverse the majority of the proposed cuts. On 25 February they will either seize this opportunity, or they will show their cuts are not about money, but about a Tory political agenda to slash services in pursuit of David Cameron’s desire for a “small state.”

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Lies, damn lies and (Sunday Times) statistics

This weekend the Sunday Times published some very misleading statistics about public sector pay. The excellent TUC Touchstone blog did an excellent analysis demolishing this biased and unfair article. Read the analysis here.

With an election looming, Tory supporting Rupert Murdoch, is making sure he gets his papers to churn out rubbish to whet the public's appetite for an onslaught on the public sector and the people who work to deliver the services.

Its important that readers of this blog forward the TUC article to friends and family so these ridiculous stories can be exposed for the lies and distortions that they are. So, if you use Facebook, Twitter or any other social media forward on the TUC link.

Normal Service has Resumed

Now the Christmas break is over, UNISON members in local government are hard at work, delivering vital public services. And sadly UNISON activists are having to spend their time defending these vital services from savage cuts in many councils.

Since we last posted here are some of the issues that have affected council staff in the East Midlands - and beyond.

Essex County Council have announced a £5bn deal with IBM to outsource services. This could spell the beginning of the end of good quality and equitable public services with the introduction of the private sectrr whose only desire is to make a quick buck.

Tory controlled Leicestershire County Council have announced 600 jobs will be cuts as they slash at services. Like Notts County Council they have take the irresponsible decision to freeze council tax. This is a decsion that means the burden of the cuts will fall on the most vulnerable as home care charges rise by 50% and some people who currently get care may be assessed as not being needy enough for care. Leader of the Council, Coun David Parsons said, "if you're not terribly vulnerable, we can't afford it."

So now only those people in Leicestershire who are very vulnerable have got any chance of getting any care. Well, Coun Parsons, you could afford it if you put up council tax by a modest 3% - it would cost just £1.24 a week extra for a Band H house or 41p a week for a Band A house and it would raise about £7.5m.

Less than the price of a cup of coffee a week is not a lot to ask to protect the most vulnerable in our society, is it?