Letter to Guardian Editor

Dear Editor 

I write in response to your four page coverage on Barnet Council entitled “Tories adopt budget airline service model”. As Branch Secretary for UNISON members working for Barnet Council I want to register my concern about the view that Council Services can learn from the likes of Ryan Air and Easy Jet.

I understand that this project has been dubbed by a spokesman for the council as ‘Easy Council’ catchy, good newspaper headlines but sending out the wrong message for the thousands of hard working staff trying to deliver efficient, quality services across the borough. Comparisons with Easy Jet and Ryan Air I believe are dangerous & unhelpful in that they play to residents & staff fears that services are going to be sold off to the lowest bidder. Using a low cost airline as benchmark for public services does not feel right when you are talking about public services.   

Twenty years ago it there may have been some truth in ‘jobs for life’ for those staff working in Council services. Today’s Council worker is facing redundancy every year, below inflation pay awards for the last 8 years and increasing pressure to do more for less. The Council worker is the butt of attacks from politicians of all mainstream parties, yet they still manage to keep the streets clean, support and protect the vulnerable and deliver excellent educational opportunities for children.   

The idea that those who can afford to pay more for a service will get services first is worrying especially at this time when unemployment is reaching record levels, in Barnet unemployment figures have risen by 80%. It is also add odds with the Audit Commission encouraging Councils to play a greater role in tackling the recession in their communities. The last thing we need is two tier services for residents in Barnet.  

It is because of the fantastic work of our members that I am saddened to see council services become caught up in the political pantomime about who will win the next General Election.  

I will be interested to hear the Government response to what Barnet are proposing after all it is their policy that is pushing councils to move away from delivering services to commissioning.  

As to what is really happening in Barnet. We have had no decisions about the future of council services. The report on the front page which claims “council plans to save up to £15m a year by outsourcing services and reducing the size of the workforce” does not reflect what we have been told. However if this is the launch of the plan to run services on an Easy Council model I predict serious unrest amongst the workforce who are already feeling over burdened with work, and angry that their hard work is going to be rewarded by cuts to jobs, pensions and pay whilst bankers received billions of public funds for failure.

John Burgess

Branch Secretary Barnet UNISON

Easy Council! – Special offer all council services on offer for One Penny closing date 27th August!

“Tories adopt budget airline service model”(Guardian 28April 2009)

Today Barnet Council was Front Page news in the Guardian newspaper see link

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/aug/27/tory-borough-barnet-budget-airline

For those staff still not registering the implications of the Future Shape consultation, perhaps this will mark the beginning of discussions in team meetings across Council.  

Further links to EasyCouncil story can be found here  

·         http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/aug/27/tory-borough-barnet-budget-airline 

·         http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/aug/27/barnet-council-conservative-party 

·         http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/aug/27/barnet-ryanair-pricing-model 

·         http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/aug/27/localgovernment-conservatives 

·         http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/conservative/6102167/Barnet-council-adopts-easyJet-and-Ryanair-business-model.html  

Phoney War

Since the 6th July 09 when Cabinet approved the move to Phase Three there has been a ‘Phoney war’ feel about Future Shape. There has been no details on the next Phase, no meetings in which we can begin to try to understand and consult over proposals for services.  

Then this!

Comparisons with Easy Jet and Ryan Air I believe are dangerous & unhelpful in that they play to residents & staff fears that services are going to sold off to the lowest bidder. Using a low cost airline as benchmark for public services does not feel right when you are talking about public services.  

What do you think?  

The last four weeks I have had the privilege of going back into social work teams in both adults & children’s services. I can report now that from the little I have seen staff are doing a brilliant job; working under incredible pressure & public scrutiny.   

I saw first hand the need for some of the Future Shape ideas such as avoiding duplication of tasks (form filling) using an IT system which all social workers and their fellow professionals can access. To address this issue we will need investment and pooling of budgets across other public sector bodies. There is nothing ‘Easy Jet’ about sorting this important issue for social services!  

I understand that this project has been dubbed ‘Easy Council’ catchy, good newspaper headlines but sending out the wrong message for the thousands of hard working staff trying to deliver efficient, quality services across the borough.  

In one of the links above a Barnet Councillor is quoted 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.”

I am concerned that an elected councillor in Barnet has this view. The increasing pressure on spending on Social Care has led to ever more stringent criteria to access services. According to the Council’s Fair Access to Care Services (FACS) you need to meet substantial/critical criteria to get a service which will involve lengthy & detailed assessments.

What next?

Early next week we should be receiving details on the implementation plan for Future Shape. We will be discussing the plan with our members at our branch meeting on

Monday 12 October 12 – 2pm. Conference Room, NLBP

Make sure you come along  

£5.73p per hour the “invisible workforce” nobody speaks about.

(The name of the worker have been changed for this article )

Gloria is a cleaner and earns £5.73p per hour. £5.73p is the legal national minimum wage, however it has been long recognised that cost of living for London residents means that there should be a London weighting added. On his election as London Mayor, Boris Johnson has honoured & championed (“Johnson said pay below this rate meant people were living in poverty even after benefits and tax credits were taken into account.”) the London Living Wage which stands at £7.60p per hour for all contracted staff. If Gloria was earning £7.60p per hour it would have a significant impact on the quality of life for her and her family. 

 

Gloria rises each day at 5 a.m. in order to catch a night bus into Barnet to begin what will be a 14 hour day which will see her work in a number of public sector buildings.

 

Her first job is in a school before the school opens, children start drifting into school while she is still working. The only person who will speak to Gloria is the caretaker. He will speak to Gloria about any changes to her normal duties and take up any issues about the standard of work she has done. No one else will notice or speak to Gloria, she is part of the school, yet she is not. She is in a school but has not had any training. In the event of a child making a disclosure, Gloria has no idea what she should do. In the time before privatisation the cleaning staff were part of the schools staff team and Gloria would have taken part in the Safeguarding training.

 

After finishing her shift Gloria has a few hours to kill as her next job is as a catering assistant in another school. She lives too far from home to return and so has to find somewhere to go to have something to eat as it is 5 hours since she left home.

 

A quick change into her uniform and Gloria is at work in the school kitchen. The catering service was privatised five years ago she is on the minimum wage and working for the next four hours. The work is hard and physically demanding. She is on her feet for most of the time, the work never seems to end.  

 

Gloria is leaving the school and heading for a college where she works for a different cleaning contractor, but still on £5.73p per hour!

 

For the next three hours she is cleaning classrooms, toilets, hallways….despite the fact she has been working there for a couple of years nobody says hello, she is invisible. ….

 

It’s 7 pm and Gloria is off her home it will be almost 9 pm before she arrives home.

In eight hours time she will be leaving for work!

 

What are the branch doing?

Barnet UNISON is part of the North London Citizens steering group, which is working towards the launch of North London Citizens. Lobbying both the private and public sectors to ensure that staff are at least on the London Living Wage is likely to be one of the aims of the organisation.

 

In Barnet our cleaners were privatised several years ago and unfortunately TUPE Plus was not on the negotiation table. The former ex council staff have been replaced with new staff on the minimum wage.

 

Our branch recently formally raised the issue of the cleaners pay & conditions with our employers and expect an update at our next meeting with our employers on 14 September.

 

Our branch believes cleaners should at least be on the London Living Wage and we are going to help make that happen.

 

We agree with the Mayor statement in the Guardian on 22 May 2009

 

“During these testing times, it is vital that we invest in order to pay Londoners a fair and decent wage,” Johnson said. 

“It also brings wider social benefits, tackling poverty, making work pay, and improving the quality of life for families……City Hall is leading by example, and we will certainly be paying the new London living wage across the GLA group as appropriate … I urge all London businesses to invest for the future by paying it too.”

 

What do you think?

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