Thursday, 7 February 2013

Proposed Response to Ferguson’s Attacks from Bristol Unison


Proposed letter to the mayor re the budget statement.

Dear George Ferguson

I am writing to you on behalf of Unison, and in response to your statement on budget proposals 2013/14. We have consulted with UNISON members in each directorate and their responses are included in this letter. We are shocked by the scale of the cuts to the services of our city that you are proposing. During your election campaign you said that you were committed to developing our city These cuts certainly are not going to get Bristol working. The council has minimised the number of redundancies in the past through redeployment but that is becoming increasingly difficult as the workforce shrinks. Redundant employees are likely to become reliant on welfare benefits and will pay reduced council tax. This will reduce revenue to the council. Furthermore, for every job loss there is less ‘spending power’ going into our city which will be negative for Bristol. With the loss of 323 FTE posts services are going to deteriorate. Most services have already been cut to the bone. I think citizens of Bristol were looking to reverse this trend, and hope that you would stand up for the people of Bristol. With these cuts, we believe that services will fail, leaving the old and vulnerable in Bristol in dire straits. We believe that Bristol citizens could support council tax rises if they are going to support the most vulnerable but this is simply not the case here.

Furthermore, you stated in your election vision that you would improve democracy. We do not accept your rationale for the significant involvement of paid and unpaid consultants and the council has been unable to provide a breakdown of the requirement for, and cost of consultants in this financial year. This is a direct threat to democracy within the council and our city. It does not give us hope that decisions will be accountable or transparent. We are therefore asking for this information as a matter of urgency. You speak about seeking extra funding, and securing extra investment and jobs for our city. UNISON members are also citizens of Bristol and welcome investment in their city. How will you achieve this? We also recognise that you wish to have a debate about the future of local government. Are you going to involve your staff, and the trade unions in these discussions? We welcome involvement, and improving democracy and relations with the workforce. Involving council staff in changes to services and the way that they are provided could reduce the need for expensive consultants and produce a more sustainable outcome.

We would also like you to read and respond to UNISON’s concerns and questions arising from the directorate budgets outlined below and drawn up by our members and representatives in each directorate

The closure of a children’s home and 3 FTE staff losses will result in a saving of £320k. The home that is closing is Capgrave. This is a specialist unit, and the displaced children will be put into the same environment as teenagers, and young adults. How can the council justify this, given the additional risks to children engendered by this proposal?

Integrated screening of need through the Bristol 1st response team resulting in 4 FTE job losses. Is this the whole programme or just this year? There is a projected £29k saving this year, and this will directly threaten service delivery.

Commissioning targeted and integrated family support services 54 FTE job losses between now and saving 900k. Where are families going to get future support? Will this not lead to additional pressures, and the possibility of family break ups, with greater cost to the council and our communities? How will the council track this?

Trading with schools 3 FTE job losses with a saving of £132k. How will this cut make BCC services more attractive to schools to buy back?

Delivering a new relationship with schools (academy related) 3.6 FTE job losses saving of 218k. How will these relations improve, if staff and therefore capacity is cut?

Remodelled Strategic Enabling and Support Processes – 5 FTE job losses saving of 100k. With this cut, support processes are bound to be weaker. How will the authority compensate for this?

LACSEG grant loss from central government and again academy related 15.5 FTE job losses saving 1,050k. What will the mayor, and his cabinet be doing to address this on behalf of the citizens of Bristol?

This makes a total of 88.1 FTE job losses and gives lots of challenges through the Children First review. How will the council continue to put children first, or is this dormant now? What affect do you feel these job losses will have on the local economy. More people and their families will be reliant on welfare, and council tax revenues will be dropping.

Can we please have a map of the grades of the posts being deleted, so we can map the long-term effect?
Corporate Services

MTFP savings proposals in Corporate Services; Legal and Statutory 73,75 & 76 – Statutory/Democratic Services

Unison wishes to raise the following concerns in connection with the above.
Lack of Consultation

Information about budget proposals affecting posts and services has been circulated and has ended up in the public domain without any consultation with employees, trade unions or councillors. The first time they saw them was in the Medium Term Financial Plan. Staff were engaged in a review in 2011. It feels as though any comments from the review and savings have been ignored. Management at all levels within the department itself and Corporate Services have not been able to account for the proposals when questioned by Unison. This lack of consultation is incompatible with the Bristol City Council Managing Change Policy and employment law.
Impact of Cuts

The proposed amount to be saved is £290,000 – this is 15% – twice the amount of cuts the council faces. This is excessive for a department that has already received cuts. In recent years, several staff have either left or reduced their hours without this shortfall being replaced. This is applicable to all teams. Members’ Services’ front-line staff has been reduced by 33% since 2006. Staff have been informed that cuts made so far are not being off-set against the £290,000. Implementing further staff cuts would have a severe impact on the effective functioning of the democratic central point of the council and service to the public.

Equalities Impact Assessment

There is no record of the Equalities Impact Assessment. It needs to cover employees, councillors and impact on members of the public who require assistance from their local councillors or who want to raise issues in their community by participation in the democratic process.

No cuts can be implemented without a thorough review of services, in consultation with employees, unions and councillors.

Inclusion of the proposed merging scrutiny officer and democratic service officer posts in the Medium Term Financial Plan

There has been no consultation with staff about this – scrutiny and democratic services staff found out that it was in the MTFP when it became public. Despite questioning, staff have been presented with no rationale for its inclusion, or why it would save money. They have not been informed whether there are implications for terms and conditions, or why this level of detail about individual posts is in the budget. Senior managers don’t seem to know why it is there. It is unacceptable that this should be included in public as a saving in advance of any service review and without consultation with staff.

Staff who are affected by this should like to understand why the Mayor has such an issue with their posts that they are cited publicly in his budget in this way – this is an unusual level of detail for the MTFP, and they are not aware that any other staff group has had such a statement made about its terms and conditions in the budget. It is extremely unsettling to staff to know that there are agendas at a senior level about their work and role which have not been evidenced by consultation with the staff involved or communicated to staff.

Staff are disturbed that a decision about some jobs seems to have been with no rationale relating to service improvement. The issue of merging job descriptions was discussed a year or so ago, and was agreed by managers to be ineffective and unrealistic in terms of the needs of the service

Cuts in Audit are potentially damaging to the council’s reputation and ability to demonstrate probity. We have just had a situation in markets, with a deficit of £200,000 that may well turn out to be fraud. These figures would never have been realised if it were not for audit’s intervention after a whistle blower raised concerns. Surely, given this scandal, we wish to strengthen our financial probity, not weaken it.

We have concerns about the procurement system COPS. Nearly all the articles are more expensive than on the open market, and it costs large amounts in officer time as they try to order goods that can be brought locally for a fraction of the price on COPS. We suggest that considerable savings can be made in this area and urge you to examine this.

Reduction in the Training Budget (CS82)

We believe that this proposal is premature and will damage the ability of the organisation to adapt and respond to the massive change envisaged over the next four years. We note that the People Programme includes a workstream related to skills and demographics but feel that such a significant cut in the training budget will mean that this workstream will be under – resourced, and hence unsuccessful in enabling the councils aspirations for workforce development. The justification for the change would appear to be that there is an underspend in this area. We have to therefore challenge why our members have not received the training they ask for in their PMDS’s and are told that there is no money for it.

The justification for the reduction in the training fund is not clear to us, and we would therefore like further details related to training, which presumably would have been taken into account when this decision was made. We request the following information:
The resources allocated for implementation of each department’s annual training plan for 2013-2014.
The existing and anticipated demand for specialist training across the authority in 2013-2014 arising from the PMDS process, in light of the Statutory Right by employees to request time off for training;
the anticipated number of new and job-changing employees who will be provided with an appropriate induction programme in 2013-2014;
the monitoring statistics available for training and development opportunities undertaken according to gender, grade and ethnic origin for 2011-2012;
the anticipated use of Development Centres for staff entering the redeployment pool – (i) to explore and measure competence in key areas of a job, with a view to defining areas of strength and areas for further development; (ii) to ensure involvement of redeployed staff in projects with a specific view to developing individual knowledge and competence; and (iii) to provide secondment and shadowing opportunities for redeployed staff to develop transferable learning.

Neighbourhoods and City Development

With reference to the proposals to cease bringing empty properties back into use (NH101), UNISON find it bizarre that this proposal is even being considered, given the clear and growing need in the city for housing. The proposal seems to be that in order to save a paltry £60K, the council intends to stop up to 500 empty homes being brought back into use. With the effect of “welfare reform” likely to mean that housing demand among vulnerable groups grows, we believe it is perverse to reduce housing supply in this way and runs counter to your commitment to protect services for vulnerable people. Please can you explain in more detail the rationale for this proposal, and how you intend to deal with the housing demand growth arising from the projected growth in Bristol’s population and the effect of welfare reform. We strongly urge you to reconsider this proposal.

We are similarly dismayed at the proposal to delete the Homelessness Prevention Fund (NH104). This impacts directlyon homeless households. These are some of the most vulnerable people in the city. The council does not appear to have money to support these people in accessing a home, but does have money to spend on vanity projects like the hydrogen ferry. We believe Bristolians will be rightly consider that this is the wrong priority and could prove to be more expensive in the long run.. The result of this proposal will be that more families are reliant on B&B for housing. This is a scandal recently publicised on the BBC – and acknowledged in the impact column of the budget paper, i.e. “Certain increase in use of B&B”. Although, on paper, this proposal is stated to save £280K, we know that in the long term the costs to the council of housing families in B&B will far outweigh this and so this proposal is clearly a false economy. If you decide to proceed with this misguided proposal, we would ask that the costs for B&B placements are clearly accounted for, and reported to cabinet in order to assess the impact of the proposal.

The proposal is to streamline care management processes to deliver improved and higher performing social work and adult safeguarding services to service users and their carers. We have seen a presentation about this at a recent Transformation JCC. The structure as envisaged is pretty much in line with existing arrangements. The main change is the loss of 30+ employees, which once again will have a negative effect on service delivery. How do you feel that a cut of this magnitude is going to improve an already stretched service?

Day opportunities have been part of on-going consultation. We do not accept that the Hubs as envisaged offer an improved service. We firmly believe that it equates to a “Woolworths” approach to social services, i.e stack them high; and in fact will be dangerous, with dementia and challenging behaviour in the same space. We urge you to reconsider before it is too late. I would also like to point out that nearly 70% of the workforce wants voluntary severance. Do you think that this is indicative of low morale, and complete frustration with service change? Do you think this is worth addressing?

We also note that you are proposing creating alternatives to residential / nursing care by expanding community supported living. You speak about accessing local services. What local services please? Most are experiencing cuts or are being closed. Day centres being a very good example. Home care has been privatised, and most service users only get a minimal service; some only 15 minutes. The voluntary sector has been decimated by cuts, and there is little left in the council in way of services. Furthermore, you are also cutting the supporting people budget by 10%. How can you envisage minimising impact to service users? We are returning to Victorian England, with people left to their own devices. We note that you are intending to increase the number of customers for the community meals service. You will have to, as many more people will be losing their jobs, and will be reliant on shrinking services.

In summary, UNISON members are very disappointed with this budget which does not address the needs of the most vulnerable We urge you to rethink, and work with the trade unions, your employees, and the citizens of this fine city, and develop services, and income. Give us something we are proud to pay our council tax for. Keep people employed so they are spending, and keeping business rate income. Let us defend our city from the banks and Whitehall, and be proud to be the Mayor of Bristol.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely
Steve Mills

Branch Secretary Bristol Unison

On behalf of the membership

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