Getting the message across (l-r): Glasgow homelessness officer Val Newlove, community care officer Clare Copeland, Stoke-on-Trent MP Gareth Snell, Northamptonshire trading standards officer Andy Langford, Wolverhampton North East MP Emma Reynolds and social worker Nikki Evans.
“It’s a testament to the strength of feeling,” Northamptonshire council worker Andy Langford said as he surveyed a packed event in Parliament last week. But what was getting council workers and MPs so riled? Cuts to local services.
Council workers went to Westminster to tell MPs that local services have reached breaking point and to get support for UNISON’s campaign to #SaveOurLocalServices, urging the government to use November’s budget to free the funds councils so desperately need.
Andy had come from Northamptonshire council, which has gone bankrupt under the strain of cuts, so he knows the dire situation facing councils all too well.
“We’re now in a situation where we’re not allowed to spend money on services unless they’re considered a safeguarding issue,” he said. “We can’t really do our usual work.
“I came today to tell MPs what’s really happening and the personal impact it’s having on our staff and the community.“
Some 21,000 council workers took part in a UNISON survey in June, which definitively showed that councils are at breaking point.
In turn, that led to almost 60 MPs wanting to talk to local government members on the frontline of the crisis at last week’s parliamentary event.
“Councils are at breaking point and they cannot deal with the demand from people who desperately need their help,” commented Labour MP Angela Eagle. “And this is because of cuts.
“People are coming to councils when they’re in crisis, because prevention work has been scrapped. It’s a false economy.”
Val Newlove is a homelessness officer in Glasgow. She travelled to London to let decision makers know what is happening in Scotland’s second city.
“Services have been slashed over the past 10 years,” she said. “Cuts have impacted everything that’s involved in homelessness –benefits, mental health and addictions – and in Glasgow it has tripled. The most vulnerable people in our society are all falling through the safety net.
“The government needs to invest in their staff and in the most vulnerable. That’s what they’re elected for, that’s their job!”
The urgent need for central government to prioritise funding for local councils was also evident from the cross-party MPs in attendance. The campaign is pressuring the government to prioritise new funding for councils at the November budget.
Labour’s Matt Rodda, MP for Reading East, said he was supporting the campaign because,
“there’s concrete evidence I can point to locally in my constituency.
“Residents are very worried about the state of local services, the amount of extra hours council staff are having to work and the extra pressure. The difficulty some staff are having to even keep services running is very real.
“Vulnerable people, people on modest incomes and children all rely on the council for vital services, which are being cut back severely. The council itself didn’t want to, but it was forced to cut back because of central government cuts.
“I’m joining UNISON’s campaign to call for investment for local services. We need properly paid staff, who can cope with their workload, pay their mortgage and spend time with their family.”
Shadow housing minister Melanie Onn is supporting the union’s campaign because “our public services are the glue that hold our communities together.
“When they disappear, our communities start to break down,” she warned. “We’re seeing the effects of that now in my constituency of Great Grimsby and that comes down to the funding cuts.
“Until councils get the funding they need, everything from libraries to rubbish collections and looked after children will continue to suffer. The cuts have gone on for too long and communities have paid too great a price for the wrong decisions by this Conservative government.”
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