Cuts / Austerity

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2012 Local Government Service Group Conference
15 February 2012
Carried as Amended

Conference condemns the Conservative-led coalition for the widespread and unprecedented destruction of council services that has resulted from the savage and unprecedented reductions in central government grants to local authorities and fire authorities and to the devolved nations. Local government workers have borne the brunt of this in job losses, the pay freeze, and attacks on terms and conditions.

Figures from the Office of Budget Responsibility now show conclusively that the Conservative led Coalition’s economic gamble of cutting an extra £81bn in the period 2010/11 to 2014/15 has failed.

Conference is further alarmed at the growing regional differences in the allocation of public funds and the way in which the redistribution of public funds in England is adding to deprivation, widening social and regional disadvantage and creating social division.

Conference further notes that whereas all business rates generated in Scotland and Wales are incorporated into the general local government funding arrangements, in England income from non domestic rates is now estimated by the Local Government Association to exceed that distributed through Formula Grant by £1.1bn in 2013/14 and £3.5bn in 2014/15 that the Government plans to ‘set aside’. It is now clear that the Government could avoid further reductions in Formula Grant in 2013/14 (£0.2bn) and 2014/15 (£1.3bn) by allocating some or all of the ‘set aside’ to Formula Grant.

Conference is extremely concerned that the proposals contained in the Welfare Reform Bill will result in the loss of thousands of local government jobs, and significant additional financial costs to local authorities through a) demand for resources from the local welfare fund b) increased homelessness costs as a result of housing benefit restrictions; c) costs associated with the localisation of council tax benefit; d) higher collection and debt recovery costs, cash flow impacts as a result of the loss of landlord direct payments in the design of Universal Credit and the significant financial disruption this will cause that in turn will further threaten jobs and services.

Conference believes that the Local Government Service Group should develop a clear alternative to local government cuts to promote the value and contribution that local services make to economic and social wellbeing and greater investment in local public services. This alternative should emphasise the value of local government services as part of a wider citizen entitlement to a protective and sustaining welfare state.

Conference congratulates all those branches and regions involved in local and regional campaigns to defend public services who through bargaining and negotiating, alliances with other trade unions and service users, political and media influence, political and industrial action have defeated or mitigated the impact of local government cuts imposed by the Conservative led Coalition.

Conference therefore instructs the Service Group Executive to:

1)Continue to promote the Service Group’s campaigns for local government services, developing easy to understand arguments, demonstrating the failure of the Government’s austerity gamble and the damage being inflicted on local communities, service users and council workers;

2)Work with other Service Groups, Regions, branches, the GPF, Labour Councillors, Group Leaders, MPs, Labour Link, other unions and allies to develop a policy and strategy to protect local government services and workers;

3)Continue to support branches taking lawful industrial action to protect jobs, pay, conditions and services within UNISON’s rules and procedures, alongside other unions where appropriate;

4)Further develop and update practical resources so that activists, members and organising staff are confident to engage employers, the media, other bodies, other members, non-members, family and friends to make the case for an alternative to local government cuts;

5)Work with Learning and Organising Services (LAOS) to roll out the political education project within the union to support this;

6)Produce materials that can positively influence public attitudes towards local government workers including the value of the jobs they do, dispelling the myths about their pay, pensions and terms and conditions and examples of the very direct impact of cuts have already had on vulnerable service users;

7)Campaign to ensure that the anticipated growth in business rates is used to add to local authority Formula Grant resources instead of substituting for existing government grants;

8)Continue training, provision of briefing documents and support for branches and Regional staff on council finances and new developments in local government finance;

9)Ensure that employers comply with their statutory equality duties, that detailed impact assessments are undertaken and successfully used to defeat or change cuts proposals from employers;

10)Defend and improve trade union facility time to enable activists to protect jobs, services and pay and conditions under threat from cuts;

11)Maintain a specific focus on recruitment and organising in all of our work against local government cuts and provide appropriate materials to enhance recruitment and organising;

12)To bring forward proposals on the future direction of Local Government Finance that secure; buoyancy, equalisation, local democratic accountability and determination, progressive distribution, minimisation of avoidance and maximisation of ease of collection for the Service Group to consider.