Thursday, 25 February 2010

Little known fact #9

The Audit Commission estimates we will need 350,000 more care workers over the next 10 years to meet the needs of a growing elderly population

Posted via email from UNISON (East Midlands)

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

No arms company holdings in our pensions

John Sharman, Lincolnshire County UNISON branch secretary and a pension fund employee rep has been leading a campaign for the Lincolnshire County Council pension fund to divest itself of the £11m held in arms company shares.

The investments form part of the shares portfolio within Lincolnshire CC’s local government pension scheme, which also invests cash on behalf of local districts and parishes. John Sharman has urged the county to ditch all arms firms from their portfolio saying:

I think we should be guided by ethical principals. We should have no investment in the arm’s trade.

In recent times the pension fund has reduced the holdings in arms companies by £2m. Congratulations to John for this partial victory. We know we can rely on him to be persistently raise this issue until all of the arms company holdings have been divested.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Pay Matters

Last week the latest inflation figures showing retail price inflation rising to 3.7%, spelling misery for local government workers hit with a pay freeze.

Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, said:

"News that inflation is again on the up spells misery for local government workers. A pay freeze is a real pay cut for teaching assistants, care workers, refuse collectors and school caterers working for local councils. They are already among the lowest paid staff in the public sector, and they cannot take another pay hit.

It is time for the local government employers to get real and get into talks on pay. We know that in England alone, councils have £12.7 billion stashed away in reserves. The majority of councils are Tory run, and the decision to give staff a pay freeze is a political choice, not a financial necessity. They can afford to give workers a decent rise."

Robin Hood Tax Video

We've blogged before about the growing campaign for a Robin Hood Tax that would be levied on all speculative banking transactions.

Richard Curtis and Bill Nighy have produced an excellent campaign video that explains the concept very simply. Once you've seen the video you will wonder why it has not been introduced yet. This is a simple and effective way of raising money to protect vital public services and tackle climate change. And it gives the banking industry a chance to repay the debt it owes to the world for the recklessness that caused the global recession.

To support the campaign click here and sign up.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Little known fact #8

The right wing press and the Taxpayers' Alliance (aka the paramilitary wing of the Tory Party) would have you believe that taxation is a bad thing and that the average person gets little in return. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The average UK household gets benefits and public services worth more than £10,000 a year - which is more than they contribute in direct and indirect taxation.

Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire - A Tale of (two very different) County Councils

Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire County Councils have many things in common that are not just about geographical proximity.

Up until June 2009 both councils had been Labour run for a very long time and both then became Conservative controlled following the June elections. In Nottinghamshire they are proposing cuts of £28m to balance their budget, however, in Derbyshire they have identified they only need to make efficiency savings of £6.12m.

Obviously if job losses or service cuts happen this is not good. But in the scheme of things this is a modest amount given the size of the overall budget, and it is small compared to cuts being made by Notts County Council.

What a contrast!

We've said before the Notts do not need to make these cuts as we've identified for them over £28m of "easy money."

Unlike Notts, Derbyshire have not taken the irresponsible decision to freeze Council Tax, they are raising it by a modest 1.5%.

The council has estimated the General Fund Reserve (they can spend this on anything they want) to be £30m to £35m which is quite a high amount relative to the overall spend of the council. So they have "money in the bank" to protect services in future years.

Derbyshire have shown that there is at least one Conservative council in the region that is not reckless with its approach to protecting vital services. The worry is that Derbyshire are the exception rather than the rule, as we've reported previously about savage cuts being made by Tory run Leicestershire and Northamptonshire County Councils.

Will the approach at Derybshire change after the general election? Given what is going on in Tory councils around the country, sadly it probably will.

Monday, 15 February 2010

All together now

An interesting article on the UNISON Active website about how UNISON can, and should stand up for public services, both before and after the general election.

The article makes the case for UNISON campaigning both in the workplace and in the community, working alongside community groups in order to defend public services.

Well worth a read.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Bassetlaw branch victory on agency workers

Regular readers of this blog will know we've been campaigning to get councils to control what they are spending on agency workers and consultants as it is clear there is signifcant waste. If you've missed our campaign you can find out about it here, here and here.

Bassetlaw branch (who incidentally won the region's Branch of the Year award a few weeks ago) have been doggedly pursing this issue for 2 years.

There have been agency workers working at the council in both refuse and street cleaning. In some cases this was in excess of 5 years. For the past 2 years or so they have raised this subject at the council's negotiating forum and they have also written to councillors about it.

Following lengthy negotiations the branch are now able to report that 22 of the agency workers have been made permanent employees of the council from this month.

This is a win-win. The council will be saving money by not paying the agency and the workers will be getting proper rates of pay with access to holidays and sick pay.

Congratulations to the branch for being so persistent and not giving up.

Little known fact #7

There is a myth circualting in the mainstream media that public spending has to be cut because it is too large and is contributing to the economic problems of the country. Public spending did not cause this recession - greedy bankers did.

Investment in our public services is exactly the sort of thing we need to help us get out of the recession. And for those who believe we spend too much on public services, here's a little known fact

The UK spends less (21% of GDP) on public services and social security than France (29%), Germany (25%), Italy (27%) or Sweden (29%)

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The solution to the recession without cutting public services

The TUC along with Tax Research UK, Tax Justice Network, Christian Aid and the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development recently submitted a report to the IMF in response to its consultation on the future taxation of the finance sector.

The submission is available here. The document is 60 odd pages and rather technical, but it can be boiled down into quite a simple set of ideas.

The submission reminds the IMF that the bank and the financial services sector caused the current recession - and they can actually be the source of the additional revenue needed to tackle current problems in the economy.

The submission demands the creation of financial transaction taxes. Basically this means a small tax of say 0.05% is levied on all speculative banking transactions. This would raises hundreds of billions of pounds. You can read more about it on the Robin Hood Tax campaign website.

It's an ideal solution as the banks got us into this mess - and they can help get us out of it. And best of all it will ensure that much needed public services are properly funded.

Heather Wakefield on Council Tax

Readers of this blog will have noted that there is a growing tendency of Tory controlled councils to irresponsibly freeze Council Tax, thus creating unnecessary budget pressures which in turn results in cuts to much needed services.
Council Tax freezes are not just an East Midlands issue; they are happening all over the country. Indeed in some council they are cutting council tax, whilst at the same time cutting services to the vulnerable.

Heather Wakefield, UNISON's Nataionl Secerary for Local Government, has wrtten about this here in her blog on the Public Finance website. Heather has shown how the simplistic and healdine grabbing approach to Council Tax will resut in misery for thousands of vulnerable people. It is the economics of the mad house.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Little known fact #6

The right wing press would have you believe local government is overstaffed. The truth - as is often the case - is somewhat different. Here's another little known fact.

The (Tory controlled) Local Government Association says we need about 10,000 more social workers to deal with vacancies and deal with rising child protection caseloads.

Notts County Council - the campaign steps up a gear

The consultation process about the £33m of savage cuts (well actually it is now £28.7m) being proposed by Tory-run Notts County Council may now be over, but the campaign has not stopped.

With help from the regional office, the branch have now taken out adverts using a photo of Bert (a real service user affected by the cuts). Pictured in this blog post is the ad that will be appearing on over 20 bus shelters in prominent positions in Gedling, Bassetlaw, Broxtowe and West Bridgford. You can click on the picture to see a bigger version.

On top of this half page newspaper ads have been taken out in the Nottingham Evening Post, the Newark Advertiser, Eastwood Advertiser and Retford Times.

UNISON have also produced leaflets (which you can download here) for the people of Nottinghamshire explaining how these cuts mean massive increases in service user charges for Bert, and countless others like him.

The leaflets (and ads) explain how UNISON have identified over £20m of "easy money" that could easily be used to offset these unjust and savage cuts. Over 5,000 leaflets have been printed and distributed in the past few days. And we will be getting more of them out into the community over the next two weeks.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Council spends £350k on consultants to help them save money!

Supposedly hard up Notts County Council who are cutting £33m of services are spending £350,000 on consultants to tell them how to save money. This is a pretty unbelievable story and lead Regional Head of Local Government, Ravi Subramanian, to write to The Nottingham Evening Post to say:

"When I read the Post article saying Notts County Council was planning to spend £350,000 on consultants to tell them how to save money I had to check my diary as I thought April Fools' Day had come early. UNISON has already told the council, for free, many ways they can find up to £28m to prevent the proposed savage cuts.

If Cabinet member for finance Reg Adair has lost the copy of the letter I sent to chief executive Mick Burrows last week, I am more than happy to send him another copy. The council could save over £40,000 by scrapping the extra cabinet posts the Tory administration created when they came into power.

They could also save a further £90,000 by not appointing the spin doctor, sorry communications director post they recently advertised."

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Cut waste not services

We've reported in the past about the region's campaign to "cut waste not services" especially when it comes to the £150m that is spent on agency workers and consultants in the East Midlands.

When we did our Freedom of Information requests back in 2009 one of two councils that was unable to tell us how much they spent on agency workers and consultants was Northamptonshire County Council. They were able to tell us how much they spent in 2007/08 but they told us since they put in place a new financial system they aren't able to extract this information easily. What's the betting they employed consultants to put in this new "improved" system?

The council's budget proposals includes £21m of cuts to services. We've shown that councils can easily save 10 per cent of their spend on agency workers and consultants if they put proper management measures in place. In 2007/08 they told us they spent £4.7m on agency workers and £7.5m on consultants.

We know they don't have any management measures in place to control costs as they don't even know how much they spent in 2008/09. It would be reasonable to assume that the combined cost would be at least £13m. This means with a few simple control measures they could save easily £1.3m that would be better spent on protecting jobs and services..

It is nothing short of a scandal that the council are doing nothing about it. The local UNISON branch, with assistance from the regional office and the union's General Political Fund (GPF) are taking this issues to the street via some bus stops.

GPF money has been used to fund a series of adverts on bus shelter panels across Northampton, Wellingborough and Kettering during the week commencing 15 February. The picture in this blog post is the ad they will be using. The people of Northamptonshire need to know how the council are mismanaging their money.