- 2011 Local Government Service Group Conference
- 10 June 2011
This Conference is appalled by the damage that has already been inflicted on local public services, to the communities that depend on them and to the loyal local government workforce that provides them by the social vandalism of the Conservative-led Government.
Conference believes that there is no electoral mandate for the widespread destruction of council services that the Conservative-led Government has set in train and that the gravity of the cuts being forced on councils by the Conservative-led government is such that a national response is needed from the trade union movement and the TUC.
Conference recognises that the Conservative-led government is playing on peoples’ fear of the economic uncertainty to pursue its agenda through a con trick built on endlessly repeating a big lie.
An Unprecedented Deficit due to Government Overspending – The Big Lie
The National Debt is Out of Control – The Big Lie
Debt Repayments Are Higher Than Ever – The Big Lie
Cuts are Inevitable and Necessary – The Big Lie
There Is NO Alternative to Cuts – The Big Lie
There is space for a genuine debate about the nature of an alternative economic approach to massive cuts. But that space is being denied by the ‘conventional wisdom’ consensus of the main political parties and most of the media. The only ‘real’ debate is on “how deep and how fast” and not whether cuts are actually necessary or desirable.
The Conservative-led Coalition’s real agenda is exposed as nothing to do with the deficit or economics. It is entirely ideological – to massively shrink the state as fast as possible as an accelerant for fundamentally reshaping society. Arguing that the so-called “Big Society” is a mask for the cuts is simplistic. It is one of the interlinked elements of an ideological social experiment on a national scale, in which local government and local democracy as we know it will be dismantled. There is an alternative to austerity. We need to make that alternative the orthodox thinking.
The “Open Public Services” White Paper threatens to rip up the entire fabric of our public services, triggering a race to the bottom for terms and conditions; making local democratic oversight meaningless; and throwing service users to the wolves of the market. It is the biggest threat that members in the Local Government Service Group have ever faced, and if implemented will lead to a return to Victorian squalor.
2011/12 merely marks the beginning of a four year period of sustained attacks on public services and local government is bearing the brunt of these attacks. Government ministers glibly talk about back office efficiencies and profligate waste yet the local government sector has delivered 24% of efficiency savings in the last 8 years. With the Government cutting almost £4bn from grants to councils in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2011/12 alone, over 150,000 jobs are at risk, tens of thousands of council workers have been driven to take early retirement or been made compulsorily redundant. Public services have lost their skills, knowledge and expertise. People on lower incomes are disproportionately affected. This is a particular attack on women’s employment and income, as women are 75% of the local government workforce. It is just impossible to make cuts of this magnitude, together with halving capital funding, without affecting all services in some way.
The UK already has one of the worst rates of child poverty in the industrialised world with nearly four million of our children living in poverty. Public service cuts are already impacting disproportionately on services to our children, and all this at a time when the Banks are paying out £6billion in bonuses – money which could be used to protect public services and reduce child poverty.
Different analyses have concluded the North West of England will feel the impact more severely than anywhere else. The major population centres of Liverpool and Manchester are in the worst affected authorities nationally. Across the Region we are seeing huge cutbacks to adult social care, children and family services, connexions and youth services, libraries and museums, leisure, grounds maintenance, refuse and cleansing, construction and property related services, public health and protection.
The Conservative-led Government and local authority employers have sought to make the workforce pay for the cuts. As well as job losses and a nationally imposed pay freeze in 2010/11, we are increasingly faced with local proposals to cut or freeze pay in 2011/12, cease increments, cut sick pay, car allowances, Part 3 conditions and a reduction in facility time. Councils and associated employers are putting branches under intense pressure to agree reductions – often on a premise they are ‘subject to review’, ‘temporary’ and a ‘last resort’. Cuts to terms and conditions are often counterproductive or fail to save the sums of money claimed.
It is vital we resist these attacks.
Reductions to pay and conditions can have the impact of distorting pay and grading schemes, de-harmonising conditions and inherently contain risks for equal pay, discrimination and detriment. Employers are expecting our members to subsidise their political budget choices or to provide them with a guaranteed ‘contingency fund’ through reduced conditions, and in doing so masking the real nature and impact of these Government imposed cuts. We are in the middle of a 3 year pay freeze and 7 out of the previous 9 pay settlements were beneath inflation. A huge number of additional hours are worked by our members without pay or other remuneration. Our members are ALREADY subsidising services and have been for years!
We should be prepared to engage constructively with employers on new approaches to redeployment and skills development, to identify real efficiencies, to remodel services and to work in different ways. But it is not the role of UNISON to help employers make their cuts by collectively reducing our terms and conditions.
Conference congratulates those branches and regions involved in local and regional campaigns to defend public services and that have defended local services and members’ jobs, terms and conditions in such a difficult environment.
Conference welcomes the detailed advice, guidance and training developed by the union, national service group and Regions for branches and organising staff; including the Guide to Local Government Finance and subsequent bargaining advice for analysing budgets; countering the LGE ‘Reducing Workforce Costs’ document and detailed bargaining advice to oppose reductions to pay and terms and conditions; the Equality Duty Protocols; detailed guidance and templates on Equality Impact Assessments; reinforcing the legal protocol requiring proposals on pay, grading, terms and conditions to be referred and assessed before approval to ballot members; the redundancy pack; and UNISON’s alternative budget.
Conference also welcomes a) the impact of UNISON’s Public Works Campaign in Scotland has had in raising membership and mobilising opposition to the cuts in Scotland and b) the role played by Wales/Cymru UNISON in lobbying the Assembly Government on the Local Government Finance Settlement in Wales and negotiating a memorandum of understanding and c) the support of elected councillors who consistently oppose cuts and support ‘no cuts’ budget proposals for or the production of ‘parallel budgets’ by their local authorities to demonstrate the underfunding by central Government.