Having given the proposals contained within the City of Edinburgh’s draft budget for 2015/16 careful consideration and consulted upon them, UNISON City of Edinburgh Branch would wish to make the following observations on behalf of its membership.
Firstly, UNISON has consistently been clear that there is a political alternative to further cuts and that implementing cuts contributes to a vicious circle of less money in the local economy and ironically even more cuts. This does not just affect the council but creates problems across the whole local economy.
UNISON is keenly aware that the legal choices available to the council are limited due to the austerity measures imposed by the Westminster government and the priority decisions taken by the Holyrood government. The latter has seen Local Government carry the lion’s share of cuts with the loss of up to 39,000 jobs across Scotland with that potentially doubling in coming years.
While the Council Tax freeze is of course popular, there is growing evidence that it benefits the better off at the expense of low income families when issues like rents and other charges are taken into account. As such the tax in its current form is regressive. The freeze has also cost Scottish local authorities around £2.5 billion that could have been spent saving services.
UNISON’s City of Edinburgh Branch welcomes the fact that the Scottish Government now appears to recognise this problem and has announced a review of local government funding. However, it does not believe that councils like Edinburgh can wait until post 2016 without irreversible damage to local services. That is why the branch has called on the Scottish Government to make interim additional funding available to local authorities.
Effects on staff and services
UNISON believes that the resource situation has now gone beyond critical. The option for further ‘salami slicing’ is not realistic and risks safe service delivery. As such there will be a direct effect on front line services.
Staffs in many areas are working under intolerable stresses. In some areas of front line service delivery, our members report working consistently above their contracted hours routinely without enhanced payments in order to deliver services. This may all impact on the health and wellbeing of these members.
One of the biggest pressures faced by councils amidst the cuts is the growing need for social care and children’s services. This cannot be avoided and it is often difficult to budget realistically in such needs led services. By their very nature, these services are all provided directly by people, many of whom are on low pay within the council and poverty pay in some procured services. Staff in these services cannot be continually forced to carry the costs for the rest of society.
UNISON believes that cuts to the voluntary and community sector will not only drastically affect the organisations concerned but will also risk more work and more pressures being heaped on already overstretched council staff who provide services to some of the most vulnerable sections of our city.
UNISON is also concerned about the targets and expectations laid on staff in jobs involving manual work. There is a limit as to what can be expected of people to physically deliver and that limit has been reached.
Edinburgh Council staff has demonstrated significant flexibility and tolerance through years of rationalisation and reorganisations along with real terms pay cuts.
The ability to get on with imaginatively and efficiently delivering services is constantly inhibited by have to prepare for, implement and regroup from reorganisations. This leaves few periods when staff can completely bed in systems and focus entirely on service delivery and indeed more efficient methods of service delivery.
UNISON has considerable concerns about the proposed neighbourhood system and urges the Council to transparently compare and contrast its current plans with the experience of previous experiments with a neighbourhood model. It is our belief that such models have presented difficulties for statutory services.
The experience of failed neighbourhood models in Edinburgh and other local authorities convinces UNISON that the current plan is a very high risk strategy unless significant lessons are learned. These include the failure of ‘generic’ management models and the lack of direct lines of accountability, professional leadership, service direction and planning criticised, for example, in some child protection inspections.
In addition, whilst welcoming the concept of joint working with other services, UNISON believes that there is evidence from the past that the proposed neighbourhood areas are too large to be effectively managed and may result in unintended consequences that add to costs rather than reduce them.
UNISON is deeply concerned that a model of neighbourhood managers with an additional city wide service responsibility appears to be being considered when a version of such a model presented so many problems when last implemented.
Loss of ‘middle management’ posts
This is deeply worrying in several services which are only able to carry on functioning because middle managers are covering for staff shortages and huge workloads. The dangers of undermanaged services for staff and for service users have been writ large in Edinburgh before and in other authorities.
UNISON believes that many of the huge back office cuts that have been implemented in fact create more work for other staff. For example, middle managers have had a range of HR and other administrative tasks heaped upon them. Front line staff no longer have an efficient level of admin support meaning they have less time to deliver the services they were employed to deliver. To have middle managers and front line staff’s time taken up on ‘back office’ functions is a false economy.
UNISON is not aware of any in-depth analysis within the council of the role and functions of middle managers in service delivery and therefore queries the assumption that these posts can be cut, thereby somehow freeing up resources for front line staff.
In some services, the middle manager role is critical to staff support, professional oversight, legal decision-making and safe practice. UNISON would be interested to see what analysis, if any, has been done to assess the effect of middle management cuts in these and other areas.
UNISON believes that the failure to protect services is not just a disservice to the people of Edinburgh but potentially a breach of the Public Sector Equality Duty requirements that may well, when the full Equalities Impact Assessment is available for consideration, result in some of the draft budget proposals being amended or removed altogether.
UNISON believes this is one round of cuts too far. With the spectre of further dramatic cuts in the coming years, there must be a question about the very viability of local services.
UNISON is concerned that some of the assumptions regarding a neighbourhood model and middle management cuts are not evidence based and what evidence there is suggests such an approach will be very high risk.
UNISON will campaign vigorously against these cuts. It urges the council to do what it can to avoid the worst effects of the cuts forced upon it by Westminster and Holyrood and urges it to show clear political leadership and continue to lobby for fair funding.
UNISON urges the Council to consider raising a Tourist Tax. Edinburgh invests considerably in Tourism to the benefit of businesses but gets little back for council services.
UNISON urges the Council to publish an indicative budget to demonstrate to the people of Edinburgh how services could have been protected if the Council had not had to make this round of cuts.
UNISON congratulates the Council on its commitment to no compulsory redundancies. We expect them to stand by this and all of their other pledges.