‘From birth, through childhood, adulthood, old age and even death – we are there.’ Photo: Marcus Rose
“We are an essential part of our communities. From birth, through childhood, adulthood, old age and even death – we are there. We are the true local service champions.”
That was the rallying cry to UNISON’s local government conference from service group executive speaker Helen Gray as she introduced a debate on the union’s Local Service Champions campaign.
“We know this, but do the public?” she asked delegates.
Not as much as they should, conference agreed, calling on UNISON – “the leading trade union for local government workers” – to take up “the challenge of promoting the interesting and vital services that our members provide, and encouraging us all to celebrate our local services”.
Ms Gray pointed out that because local services are so unacknowledged and undervalued it has been easier for the government to make cuts and that these cuts “over a decade have had a devastating effect”.
The “age of austerity” is far from over, conference declared, with central funding for English councils falling by 49% since 2010, while Welsh and Scottish authorities have lost £850m and £1bn respectively over the last decade. And the story is the same in Northern Ireland.
“The local government sectors is one of the largest employers in the UK, employing more than two million people,” said Ms Gray. “But 850,000 jobs have been lost since 2010.”
And the cuts continue. Which is why conference welcomed the campaign.
As a taster, delegates were treated to a new Local Services Champions film during the first day of conference, and Ms Gray was proud to announce that it had already been retweeted by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The campaign will build up to a nationwide celebration day on 17 October.
As Mandy Buckley, the senior steward for Birmingham care workers who recently won a year-long dispute over council plans to cut their hours and pay, declared: “I believe in campaigns.
“Campaigning got us to where we are today. Without campaigns we would not have won.”