Local service champions

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2019 Local Government Service Group Conference
19 February 2019

Local government is a diverse network of roles and services that all work together to keep our local communities going. Local government workers have a vital role to play in this, working tirelessly to support the public in their everyday lives. They are true local champions, sometimes working ‘behind the scenes’ to make sure our communities run smoothly. They deserve to be celebrated for all the hard work they do.

However, local government workers rarely get the public recognition they are owed, because of a lack of awareness of the roles within local government structures or their importance. Local councils have also taken on the largest burden of cuts from central government since 2008. Central government funding for English councils fell by over 49% between 2010/11 and 2017/18. Severe cuts to central government funding available for local services have a knock-on effect on local government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Welsh and Scottish local authorities have lost £850m and £1bn respectively over the last decade. The age of austerity is far from over for local authorities across the UK, with many still facing an uncertain future: in England alone there will be an estimated funding gap of £8bn by 2025. As a result, council workers are suffering job cuts, stagnant pay and attacks on their terms and conditions to make up the shortfall.

Cuts have affected local authorities so severely that they have been forced to make larger cuts to services that they have fewer legal obligations to provide, hitting some occupational groups harder than others. For example, although social care spending has been cut by 3% between 2010/11 and 2016/17 (while demand for support increased), spending on youth services fell by 65% and housing by 46%.

Combined with limited public knowledge of the value of particular local government roles, these devastating cuts mean that many UNISON members’ jobs and the services they work in are still being cut to the bone despite a decade of austerity. Far too often this happens without the media coverage or political and public outrage that other services with similar importance in our communities, like police or health services, receive when they face similar spending cuts.

As the leading trade union for local government workers, it is essential that UNISON takes up the challenge of promoting the interesting and vital services that our members provide and encouraging us all to celebrate our local services. Conference calls on the Local Government Service Group Executive to:

1)Launch a Local Service Champions campaign that builds on the work of the Public Service Champions campaign, raises awareness of the importance of local government workers and supports UNISON’s efforts to recruit and organise;

2) Work closely with UNISON’s media and press office to increase the number of local government related media, social media and press activities;

3) Work with learning and organising services to explore the possibility of creating training for members that builds their confidence in talking about the value of their role within local government and the impact of austerity on their workplace;

4) Hold a celebration day similar to the ‘Stars in Our Schools’ campaign, that focuses on promoting the roles of a selection of local government occupational groups;

5) Produce a resources pack for branches to support planning activities for the Local Service Champions celebration day;

6) Develop a database of local government members and activists who are available for different types of communications work, from social media to press interviews;

7) Work with membership participation unit and the self-organised groups to ensure that this campaign highlights the diversity of staff working in local government and the particularly important role of women who make up the majority of local government staff.