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23 December 2014

Joint Trade Unions Staff Side Secretary 2015/2016 Budget Response   

As we face yet another year of cuts to the vital public services that the council provide, the trade unions have to raise grave concerns about the impact that these cuts will have on Services and our members working terms and conditions.

These continuous cuts will have a negative impact on the public of Edinburgh who rely on council services, in particular the most vulnerable children, young people and families, the elderly, the disabled and all who reside in the areas of greatest deprivation in our city.

We are told time and time again that we need to be leaner and more efficient.  What this in practice means is, work harder with less. Our members have and always will work hard to deliver the vital services they provide to the public. However, staff are reaching breaking point and are finding themselves overstretched and unable to access the resources that they need to carry out their work safely.

There is a proposal to rent out space at Waverly Court to the private sector. Our experience and understanding of Waverly court is of council staff making their way into work , hoping that they will not have to spend a long time finding a ‘hot desk’ to plug in their laptop and holding meetings at tables in the canteen, if they are lucky enough to get one. Staff require decent and proper accommodation to be more efficient. Renting out space will only make the situation worse.

Over recent years we have seen a constant reduction in preventative services; surely prevention is better than cure? Even if there is a cure it may be too late and much more expensive.   

Can it be right to cut services such as early years and community education? Services that support the city’s children and young people, disabled people, the elderly and adult literacy programs are again being disproportionately reduced. Children and young people benefit greatly from the services that are offered including peer education and group work. Disabled people are able to attend groups during the day and this can be a vital link for them, the same applies to our elderly residents and to those who benefit from the adult literacy service.

Our most vulnerable and disadvantaged children and families and other underprivileged groups are regularly experiencing the disappearance of the services that they need. How does this sit with the council pledges to give every child a good start in life and to reduce poverty, inequality and deprivation?

Equality and gender Impact assessments are often carried out after decisions are made, rather than in advance to inform the decisions making process. This leads to poor judgements leaving the least powerful and vulnerable individuals and communities being disproportionately disadvantaged. 

Our members and city residents have been encouraged by the council to participate in completing their Budget Calculator. This is a very cynical method to inform decision making. The returns are very low and some of those who complete the task may have little understanding of statutory services, the role and function of local government or may only have their own vested interests at heart.

Those who have a greater knowledge and understanding, and may oppose the cuts, have no capacity through the exercise any ability to challenge the status quo.

Management and elected representatives may then try to use the returns to claim that their employees and the public decided what should be cut.  This will be view by all as a cynical negation of senior managements and the elected member’s responsibilities.

All services provided by the council will be vital to someone. Like a jigsaw all the pieces are needed to complete the picture. It is important to keep all these pieces together, if you give one to someone else, or a few pieces to a number of people, it will create difficulties when you want to put it back together and see the whole picture. If a piece of the puzzle is lost, or someone does not look after a piece, then the jigsaw becomes worthless and not fit for purpose. If you value the puzzle, look after and care for it and it will continue to work effectively.

The scenario above applies the same to the council and the services it provides. If you belief that you can continue to reduce the services (make the pieces too small –they will not fit into the jigsaw) if you outsource service to vested interests, who’s main ambition will be profit for private gain and who employee staff on low pay and poor conditions, mistakes will happen. In Edinburgh we have witnessed this with private care homes, and in England where many local authority services have been outsourced and failed with the result that they have had to be taken back into local authority control.

The trade unions will resist, further cuts and any attempt to outsource services and further attacks on our members working terms and conditions.

We will work alongside as well as providing resources where and when necessary to the citizens of Edinburgh and their community groups in the campaign to protect the services they use and need.
Those who work in the public services are more than aware of what is needed to provide meaningful, dedicated and professional public services and they are prepared to go that further mile in serving the public.

What our members also know is that these services cannot be provided on a shoestring or by expecting staff to risk their health and safety as well as that of the public.

Closing special schools and secure units that provide invaluable support and protection to our most vulnerable children, young people and their families is irresponsible especially when there is no clear or detailed plan of how these needs will be met.

Reducing the number of managers is also being considered, there needs to be great caution in making such a decision. Unlike the private sector, many of our members who are managers will have clear and specific areas of professionalisms and expertise that are vital to the services provided.

Our role is not just to protect the terms and working conditions of our members. We will defend the ethos of Public services and will ensure that we challenge the myth that ‘we are all in this together’.
It was not Public service workers or the public they serve who caused the problem in the economy but the large financial institutions. Their failures resulted in a massive bailout and the retention of their huge salaries and bonuses.

Public services on the other hand are being cut to the bone. The staff employed in the service have endured years of pay freezes’ resulting in a drop in their living standards.

The cuts to public services won’t work.

Most spending cuts are a false economy – the redundancy costs and knock-on effects on employment, growth and tax revenue will make the situation worse.

On average every redundancy creates £29,400 in additional costs to the public sector as well as undermining morale and productivity.
Most of the cost of employing a public service worker is recouped by the state through increased tax revenues and reduced benefit payments.

Economic research shows that for every pound spent on local public services, 64 pence is re-spent in local economies, supporting jobs and businesses.

There are also ways we could ensure that the council uses its money effectively;

Monies could be saved every year by reducing the agency bill.
Reduce the number of private consultants who bring little discernible benefit.

Trade unions play a key role in supporting and empowering staff to improve and develop services – research indicates that this already saves the taxpayer as much as £3.6bn a year in productivity gains.

The trade unions will continue to engage in meaningful dialogue with the administration and council officers. However, it will remain the case that we will not participate in a manner that encourages cuts to public services or undermines the terms and conditions of public service staff.

Tom Connolly
Staff Side Secretary
19 December 2014

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