Speakers at UNISON’s local government conference spoke passionately about the effects of cuts to essential public services and the need for action to save these services from decimation.
“Nearly three million people used food banks last year, while the rich are getting richer. We need a government willing to tax the rich to fund public services. We need a party that is unashamedly for the working class,” said one delegate.
According to UNISON research, councils across the UK are facing a funding shortfall of £3.2bn in 2023/24, rising to a cumulative funding gap of £5bn for 2024/25. Councils including Woking, Thurrock and Croydon have declared bankruptcy, while others are being forced to cut essential services such as children’s centres.
The solution, delegates heard, is massive reinvestment in local government from the centre, along with a new, positive vision for local government that recognises the fantastic work done by public sector workers.
As an example of the kind of campaigning work that can be done to help save local services, delegates from Brighton and Hove spoke about the Give It Back campaign, where UNISON is working with other unions as well as Green and Labour councillors, and local businesses, organisations and charities, to demand a reversal of cuts to local services.
As part of the campaign, the organisers are making a series of gravestones representing services which have been cut, which they are planning to set up outside the Houses of Parliament.
While services are being cut to the bone, local government workers are struggling to feed their own families because their pay hasn’t kept up with inflation. Many delegates spoke about their own struggles to make ends meet while also dealing with the effects of cuts at work.
“When you’re paid more for packing cheese than for keeping children safe, something’s drastically wrong,” said one speaker.
UNISON’s research shows that local government staff are thousands of pounds a year worse off than they were in 2009, with qualified residential care workers effectively losing £6,177 a year, refuse collectors £3,506 and teaching assistants £4,813.
Delegates voted for motions that called on the local government service group executive to:
- continue to campaign for proper recognition of local government services;
- generate political activity in parliaments across the UK calling for more funding for council services;
- raise awareness of the importance of local government workers to society through campaigns such as UNISON’s Local Services Champions; and
- maintain a high-profile campaign to make sure the public understands the needs for properly funded services and decent pay for local government workers.