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.

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