Essex meets Barnet

Mick Mahoney is branch Secretary for Essex UNISON. Mick has a long history in trade unions. He worked for many years as a docker down in Tilbury, before moving to local government. The work was a big change but the issues facing the workforce remain the same.

Essex UNISON came to our attention last December when news broke that Essex were already looking for someone to run their council services. A journalist contacted the branch to ask if they were aware that all of the council’s services had been ‘bundled up’ as a package for around £4.5 billion.

The Leader Lord Hanningfield is a key figure in Cameron’s team.

In March this year the branch had been told the scheme for mass privatisation had gone on hold, but that was only until the county council elections in May were over. On the day that our branch was being bombarded by journalists looking for a response to the EasyCouncil article in the Guardian, Mick was being interviewed by the BBC over secret plans for mass privatisation of all council servcies by 2012, just in time for the Olympics!

Interestingly, Mick said industrial relations with their employers have been ok, it is only in the last 12 months when these plans first came to light that there has been a significant change.

Essex Council has already appointed IBM as the organisation to lead commissioning on behalf of the Council. Our members know of IBM because of their partnership (SouthwestOne) in Somerset.

Mick is clearly committed to fighting on behalf of his members. Over the years he feels the language of the politicians may have changed but the message is still the same, they are after our members Terms & Conditions and it is only UNISON standing in their way.

Mick is coming with his Assistant Branch Secretary (Bab’s) to address our branch meeting on

Monday 12 October 12 – 2pm, Building 2, Conference room, NLBP.

Is It a Job to Die For?

No one can doubt Social Work is one of the most stressful jobs. Today I attended UNISON’s Regional Social Care Forum where there was a briefing on stress. Medical Research has established beyond doubt there is a causal relationship between stress, major illnesses and mortality. Stress now sits alongside asbestos and smoking as an occupational hazard. It is the second cause of all sickness absence in the UK and accounts for half of the total costs of sickness absence at £7billion.

The following illnesses are related to or are exacerbated by stress: 

  • Coronary Heart Disease
  • Immune Deficiency
  • Cancer
  • Pregnancy and foetal complications (including miscarriages)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Mental illness
  • Obesity 

Some of these illnesses are killers. It was alarming to hear anecdotal evidence from union representatives of social workers in other local authorities about the levels of miscarriages, deaths of colleagues in their 40s and 50s from strokes, cancers and heart disease. I have heard many times over about how colleagues in Barnet feel very stressed. Management believes there is an issue of stress and will be running Stress Management Courses. It is also the case sickness levels in Social Services are higher than the average.

 

We want to gather hard evidence about stress levels in Social Services amongst ALL workers and find out what the trends are. You will be receiving a stress questionnaire shortly which we would like you to complete as soon as possible and return to the UNISON office. If you are reading this and you are not a UNISON member we still want you to complete the form. Please contact us!

Possible bad news for our ALMO members

As expected the future of ALMOS is becoming real for our members.

In Ealing http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/story.aspx?storycode=6506372

In Hillingdon http://www.lgcplus.com/5006704.article

In Barnet this was sent to our members working in the ALMO

http://www.barnetunison.me.uk/sites/default/files/Chief%20exec%20briefing%2028%209%2009.pdf

I hate to say it but “we told you so!” UNISON policy was to oppose ALMOs as we saw them for what they were. They were a stepping stone for privatisation. It was clear that there was not going to be a sustainable business case for ALMOS. ALMO’s as the Decent Homes standard comes to a close are struggling to survive. We will demand they are returned back to the community and not sold off. We fear for the future of local services and the Terms & Conditions of our members.

Barnet UNISON visit Essex UNISON……Care Assistant vs. a Barclays Finance Director..

She: David; He: Goliath  or “Does Essex Excel in Essex Cares?”

 

Babs is an assistant branch secretary in Essex County Council UNISON. Her normal job was as a care assistant. She is utterly committed to trying to get the best results for her members and combating the ever growing attempts at mass privatisation of County Council services. Babs knows what she and her members are up against – the insistent grasping tentacles of large private companies lining up to fatten their profits provided by taxpayers’ money with the assistance of slavish politicians who usually have more in common with a Barclays Finance Director than with a care assistant.  

From her role as a care assistant and assistant branch secretary Babs has found herself leading and involved in campaigns to fight privatisation of social care provision within the Council. For a few years the UNISON branch was successful in preventing the privatisation of their 64 residential care homes. Eventually the privatisers got their way and now all homes are run by Excel. The inspectorate of homes is so impressed with the standards maintained by Excel, it has since enforced the closure of two homes! 

The next battleground for privatisation has been all of the other provisions of adult social care; namely the day centres, the 1,000 strong in-house home help service, OTs and support workers. Consultation started March 2008. There was no in-house bid and the only proposal was to privatise all of those services. Babs, colleagues and pressure groups led a campaign to stop that happening. As the trade unions were able to attend all consultative meetings Babs and UNISON colleagues put forward their arguments. They were able to increase their union membership and hold stalls at the meetings.  

The pressure against privatisation grew so much that the Council came up with a compromise solution: the creation of an ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation). Anyone who thinks this is a good compromise should speak to those in Barnet Homes where colleagues are seeing the steady erosion of their terms and conditions or Ealing Homes which is now facing total privatisation as the set up has failed. Nonetheless the proposal in Essex foresees the pension scheme as being saved and open to new starters and there will be no 2-tier workforce. The ALMO, Essex Cares, also pays the Council to be able to participate in the union facility time arrangement enabling the staff of Essex Cares to continue receiving union representation from the UNISON branch. Babs reports most of the staff as being positive about Essex Cares but she does not see it as a victory. She thinks her members will regret their initial enthusiasm not least because she sees the increasing agenda of personalisation as a potential real threat to the viability of these services with no democratic control to bend the services to the new challenges. Currently there are some 800 people with personalised budgets in Essex County. 

Babs is now heavily involved in the negotiations and campaigns around Essex attempting to privatise all Council service. As the Council brings in more and more financial services experts she finds herself sitting opposite a financial director of Barclays Bank. We cannot underestimate how daunting this is. But if tenacity and courage is what wins the day Babs would win hands down. We would be foolish to think these attributes in one person is enough on its own. Babs and her colleagues need our support and we need theirs.

 

Come and meet Babs at our Branch meeting lunchtime 12 October.

Barnet UNISON School Conference

Barnet UNISON are organising a conference on Tuesday 27th October for all our members working in Schools.

We have a speaker from UNISON national coming to talk about the proposed new national agreement. There will be opportunities for staff to talk about ‘rarely cover, pay, life long learning and heath safety.
View programme click here

“A call to arms or alms?”

UNISON have announced that after joint trade union consultation the members of all the main trade unions have voted to accept 1% National pay offer.

It is clear from the media circus that politicians across the mainstream parties are queuing up to show how they would cut public sector spending if they were elected to run the government. The vote to accept 1% is a critical moment for public sector trade unions. They need to quickly  develop a coordinated, joined up strategy to defend public services in a way that members can feel confident that their leaders really means business. 

Our members and members of other trade unions need strong leadership, it needs to go beyond rhetoric and sound bites. Members need to be inspired, they need to believe that they can make a difference.

 White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said to President Obama to ‘never let a good crisis go to waste.’ 

I believe the same applies to the trade union movement. We need change. The change has got to come from our members and our stewards, they are the key to the future of trade unionism in the next decade. 

The government is committed to breaking up public services. Easy Council is not a Barnet only concept, it is government policy to encourage the move from a provider to a commissioner. This change will gather momentum if we don’t stand up and fight. There are those who prefer appeasement on the basis that people are not prepared to fight. 

I point to positive reaction of the British public to the attacks on our NHS from right wing fundamentalists in the USA (what planet are these people from?)

Next week sees the start of TUC conference. In my day it marked the beginning of televised politics, the mainstream party conferences would follow and we would watch and listen to the speeches. Nowadays it hardly raises a mention in the media. 

This non engagement is a ‘wake up call’ for the trade union movement. Potential members of trade unions need to be convinced of the need to belong to a trade union. The hard won terms & conditions that people take for granted were not handed over willingly. They were hard fought, there were casualties. We need to show these potential members why we need to fight and why they need to be part of the fight.  

I would ask members to note Motion 49 entitled ‘Defending public services’ going to TUC conference from the PCS which I am hoping will be adopted. It opens with

“Congress rejects the notion that the solution to the economic crisis, and the resulting national debt, must be found in public spending cuts which damage services, freeze public sector pay, increase privatisation, or cut pensions and benefits. Congress rejects the divisions that are being encouraged by the media and politicians between private and public sector workers in order to justify cuts…..” 

Rank & file members understand unity, they understand the need to stand together, they have an expectation of the leaders of the public sector unions to work together for the survival of public services and their members. 

We don’t want members put on the dole, we don’t need ALMS we don’t want benefits

We need jobs, wages, we need dignity and self respect in the work place. 

Links

UNISON National Pay Award Press release

http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=1563

TUC Conference

http://www.tuc.org.uk/congress/tuc-16887-f0.pdf

Total Place

http://www.localleadership.gov.uk/docs/TotalPlaceWeb.pdf

Barnet UNISON response to Easy Council

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/sep/02/response-barnet-council-budget-airline

Don’t waste a crisis

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yeA_kHHLow

Public spending cuts

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/6164408/Five-ways-for-the-Tories-to-get-real-about-public-spending-cuts.html

http://conservativehome.blogs.com/thetorydiary/2009/09/national-pay-bargaining-must-go.html

 

 

“2P or not 2P”

Pensions & Pay

More headlines in the newspapers and airwaves about our supposed “gold plated” public sector pensions.  Over the next 8 months we are going to see an increase in scaremongering from the media about our pension scheme.

The latest UNISON report states “The average LGPS pension in payment is still only around £4000pa and the average for women is around £2000pa that’s hardly gold plated!

If members [not just in Barnet] working in public services want to keep their pensions then they need to start defending them now. The government are making plans now, hence the press releases which will increase the nearer we get to the general election.

In the past the union has provided pro forma letters for members to send to their MPs, if members want to stop this attack on your future then you need to approach you MP now. If you can’t make it to one of your MP’s surgeries, email your MP with your letter. Ask the question:
 
“Will they vote to dismantle our pension scheme?”

Don’t be fooled by the alternatives, they are not acceptable and if implemented will not be sustainable for the future. Younger workers will see no benefit in joining such a scheme.

You might feel you are living quite comfortably now, but if the pension scheme is dismantled it will push millions of families into poverty and increase the burden on the state. How crazy is that?

Unfortunately, until we can have a grown up conversation about pensions we are going to have to deal with ‘headline grabbing sound bites’ from politicians seeking votes at the next general election.

What you can do
Contact your MP
Become a UNISON rep in your team
Start discussing the pension scheme in your work place

Pay

Our response to this years pay ballot has not been great, but having a ballot in the middle of the summer doesn’t help. There are two ways pay can improve, nationally and locally for example in a restructure your grade may increase.
National Pay ballot is looking at 1%, according to UNISON report most councils budgeted between 2- 2.5%. Our council budgeted for 2%. Amongst the London Councils there appears to be strong feeling that there should have been no increase except for the lower grades (no details). There were reports  that London councils were considering pulling out of the national pay talks machinery.
“Merrick Cockell (Con), chairman of London Councils, said the decision, worth 1% to most staff and 1.25% to the lowest paid, was likely to prompt the capital bloc to consider joining the 40 or so other authorities which set their own pay and conditions.”

Whilst this is unlikely to happen this time, it is something for ALL members to note as there is clear government policy for more local negotiation thus undermining national bargaining.

Local Pay
The average council worker goes through a restructure almost on an annual basis in which case there is an opportunity for an increase in pay. The LBB procedure for all restructures is covered in Managing Change. Staff should be consulted at the beginning of the process and given opportunity to comment on the content of role profiles. It is only after agreement on the RP’s will HR grade the posts, afterwards the Trade Unions grade the posts and compare with the HR scores. It is becoming increasingly the case that the trade unions grading scores are different to HR scores. In such cases we sometimes have to carry out a consultative ballot of the members concern to see how strongly members feel about what could be an increase of one or two increments. In these harsh economic times who can afford to lose a possible small increase in pay?

Accept it or you will be privatised!
This is not something new, but it is something that all public sector workers will have heard before but I predict something similar will be heard across public sector workplaces across the UK. I believe that the 2010 version may read “accept it & be privatised”, despite the fact that it is generally accepted privatisation does not save the public purse!

What about Barnet?
Despite media headlines which were simply quite mad, the future is still very uncertain, the sooner we have something concrete for staff to consult on the better.

I expect something much more transparent than in Phase 2 which saw a chosen few discuss the future for public services, whilst in the background, consultants were busy providing the financial case. By that I mean the efficiency savings, it is clear from looking at the contributions on the intranet that the groups were not party to the figures given for the Cabinet report in July this year. The Trade Union concern still remains that these figures were crude estimates with little or no substance.

Nationally one of the biggest criticisms of councils going into strategic partnerships has been the poor analysis of actual savings. Exaggerated claims are made to councillors quite understandably worried about the next poor financial settlement from central government. A consultant comes in and promises them the ‘Golden Fleece’. Is it no wonder that they agree to these sort of poorly conceived remedies to the increasingly poor state of public sector finances.

The only winners are the consultants, KPMG, Deloittes, PwC who grow fat on fees from the public sector organisations desperately looking for the magic pill to solve all ills.

When are public bodies going to learn? When are we going to tap the experience & expertise within our own organisations? When we use consultants, we should do so using robust performance monitoring of their contributions to the project.

Barnet “Supporting the venerable…sorry the vulnerable”

“Supporting the venerable vulnerable”

Dear members  

I have just finished a month on placement with social work teams across Adults & Children’s services. I was planning on jetting off for a holiday, and try and take things easy when this happened last Friday. I was suddenly bombarded by numerous text messages & emails asking if I had seen the Guardian article. I am not a regular reader, so had to go out and purchase a copy, and what did I find but a Four Page article in a National newspaper. There was also the online version which was quickly spreading to other links to other political commentators. 

The “Easy Council” quip alongside comparisions with Easy Jet & Ryan Air have proved eye catching and have whipped up a media frenzy and comments from the public.  

The political commentators are already saying that Barnet is the test ground for a future Cameron government, interesting to note a quote from a senior conservative figure on Friday

“This is not seen as a blueprint. Barnet have gone their way and that’s fine but there is no wider significance as far as David is concerned,” said a senior Tory source. 

Not that this says anything, it could be that they are simply waiting to see what happens in Barnet. 

For staff working hard in Barnet it must be confusing & disturbing to feel part of an experiment without having any say. If this is an experiment then we should have been told.  

One of the more alarming quotes was from a councillor who when I last checked does not have a brief for adult services but is quoted as saying  

With council tenants, and I’ll admit I am putting it crudely it has been a lot of ‘my arse needs wiping, and somebody from the council can come and do it for me.’ That attitude is dying out now.” 

When I read that statement after picking myself off the floor, I went to have a look at Fair Access to Care Services (FACS) to check the criteria yourself.  

Public Sector wasting money

What…..we have been making year on year savings (in Barnet almost £80 million in last six years!). Let’s get this right, we are in a recession, not because of public sector failure but because of private sector failure and what is worse our government sat by and let it happen for fear of making an enemy of the City! 

The ink is not even dry on the £Billions of public money being poured into the banks and already there are debates about whether there should be bonuses!  

It really makes me quite angry at the hypocrisy coming out of the national media to public services, in particular the Pension issue. It is not our Pensions that created the recession and to call a £4,000 pension gold plated is diabolical.  

There are around 4 million voters working in public sector, I wonder who they will be voting for because it seems all three mainstream parties are looking to cut their job, pensions and pay! 

Why not rename the Refuse service to the Landfill Service ?

One of the comments in the article refers to the smaller bins, but most members of the public know this will see an escalation in fly tipping. The question is the right one i.e. how do we reduce the amount of landfill? The solution is not going to be easy as providing catchy sound bites. Residents need to hear the truth about the landfill tax which is hanging over the heads of Councils. In Barnet we are being told that if we continue collecting the same amount of refuse in 5 –10 years time we will be taxed so heavily that it could bankrupt the council. One of the implications could be that we would have to raise Council Tax, but this is politically impossible, instead the public attention is directed to scare stories about Ryan Air/Easy Jet.   

Queue jumping!

Not popular in the UK but something introduced in the article. The idea that if you have the money you can pay for a better service has quite understandably provoked outrage as this is being seen as looking after the rich and leaving the rest to a second class service. It is only a few week ago when the public reacted with anger and disbelief at the Americans fear of our NHS. Incredible isn’t it, but they seem to think it is ok that 50 million of their citizens do not have access to health care and another group who do have healthcare are frightened that if they are ill the healthcare organisation may deny them access to the medical aid. If anyone out there thinks that is what should happen to public services in the UK, then let me know I am sure we can organise a cheap ticket, one way ticket to the USA! 

One of the three aims of future shape was “a different relationship with citizens”, it is hard to believe that creating two tier public services is what this aim was seeking to address.  

BNP & Council Housing  

This is the party that exploits the break up of public services. A good example is Council Housing. The break up of Council housing has been both financial madness but has not met the needs of communities. There was a time when we had well built council housing which gave working people access to quality, low cost housing. For our Future Shapists out there looking at disadvantaged families take a good look at the housing opportunities for those families and the services available to them. The break up of council housing has created ghettoes, housing stock has reduced due to right to buy that only those in most need are able to access this service. Councils are putting problems families alongside vulnerable adults & their families, no wonder our sheltered housing residents are petrified at the thought of their warden leaving the service. 

 

It is well documented that the BNP does well where access to services is seen to be restricted to a few. Any policy that will increase disadvantage and deny access to public services must be opposed.  

If the Future Shapist’s lobby within the Council are genuinely interesting in making early interventions and preventing dependency on public services then surely they need to start by looking at the environment we are creating for our residents.

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