Tales from Tower Hamlets

What is your name?

John McLoughlin

What UNISON branch?
Tower Hamlets

What is your branch officer position?
Branch Secretary

Have any of your services been privatised? Please explain?
Yes. Many of our big manual services – waste collection etc were privatised many years ago. More recently we have fought a long battle on Housing Stock transfer – winning many ballots – although the Council then established an ALMO with no vote. There is still pressure on many areas – Waste Education has just controversially been given to Veolia and our Tenancy Support Team is to be transferred to Look Ahead. We have also had successes however. When I was convenor of Benefits we stopped privatisation to ITNET, and big campaigns also stopped the privatisation on all of our Home Care and School Meals.

Do you know if there are any plans to share services with other public sector organisations in your borough?
There has been an experiment in sharing senior HR management with the PCT but that has been deemed unsuccessful and is ending. No major plans yet – but we’re all watching what happens in other Boroughs

Do you have any privatisation proposals in your borough?
Just the ones above at present

What do you think will be the big challenges for public Services over the next four years?
All the major parties are trying to outdo each other in who can make the most savage cuts. Everything will be up for grabs – jobs, services, pensions, pay and conditions. Yet no one seems to ask one simple question. We were told that the trillions poured into the banks because of the collapse caused by the reckless greed of the wealthiest in society would all be paid back. So why are low paid Public Sector workers expected to pay for the crisis?

What is your message to Barnet UNISON members
Our unions need to unite and stand up to these attacks. In 2005 when public sector unions started to come together we forced the government and employers back on pensions. We need to do that again- on a bigger scale. We have seen the possibilities at a local level. In Tower Hamlets College we have just succeeded in getting no compulsory redundancies after lecturers in UCU took all out strike action and won widespread solidarity.

Breaking news……..Hillingdon ALMO to come back in house

Yes you have read correctly.

Only last week , Barnet UNISON shared with its members the news that Ealing ALMO was failing and Ealing Council were looking to privatise it.

Last week we announced that Hillingdon Council were considering bringing the ALMO in house

Today we can confirm Hillingdon Cabinet Committee made the following recommendation
That Cabinet agrees:
1. To instruct officers to carry out a tenant and leaseholder test of opinion on dissolving Hillingdon Homes and bringing the council housing services back in house.
2. To instruct officers to report back to Cabinet for a final decision on the future of Hillingdon Homes as soon as possible once the test of opinion has been completed.
To view the documents which went to Cabinet click on this link

http://modgov.hillingdon.gov.uk/Published/C00000115/M00000510/$$ADocPackPublic.pdf

To view the agreed minutes click here

http://modgov.hillingdon.gov.uk/Published/C00000115/M00000510/$$$Minutes.doc.pdf

There are some significant comments made in the report which members and residetns may be interested to read. With Future Shape very much in everyone’s minds the following makes interesting reading.

“There would also be significant financial benefits to tenants by returning to the council.”

“Financial considerations are also a driver in testing resident opinion for the return of the landlord service to the council. Significant savings are likely to arise which can be used to fund service improvements. Potential savings from the costs of governance of the ALMO are likely to be in excess of £300k per year”

“While the ALMO vehicle has enabled the council to achieve the decent homes standard and improved satisfaction ratings from tenants and leaseholders, there is no over-riding strategic value in continuing to maintain this method of operation. It is also increasingly evident that the vehicle in itself has not been significant in the achievement of excellent standards of service.”

“Any future plans for the council housing services will look to build on the advantages of this involvement. The “freedoms and flexibilities” for ALMOs that were promised by Government have, however, failed to appear.”

“The review of council housing finance has now been published by the Government. One option allows local authorities to buy out of the national HRA subsidy system and finance the maintenance and management of housing stock via rent (and other income), re-investing according to local need. It is not expected that the review will lead to any new specific benefits regarding ALMOs.”

“Although originally there was potential to exploit the ALMO as a delivery vehicle of the council, the case for retaining the ALMO has now been weakened. Local authorities have been offered many of the freedoms that were previously offered only to ALMOs, for example, bidding for Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) social housing grant to develop housing. In addition, the government has now announced that local authorities are able to retain the rental income from homes they buy, build or bring back into use, to invest in new housing. This had previously been a major advantage of the ALMO.”

“In general terms it is also clear that the ALMO vehicle has not been a sufficiently useful model in furthering the wider objectives of councils. Where initiatives of this nature have been developed (e.g. the development of Hillingdon Homes Direct to procure private sector housing for the council) the government’s financial regulations meant it was unable to compete on equal terms with Housing Associations and was therefore not financially sustainable.”

“Maintaining the ALMO as a stand alone vehicle involves a strong duplication of effort in a number of areas, most significantly, governance, strategic direction, performance management and communication functions.”

“In the absence of an ALMO, the council will have complete control over the in-house housing management service and will be able to introduce an improvement programme to meet the council’s corporate standards and ultimately further develop services to residents.”

“Returning the landlord service to the council’s direct management would allow Hillingdon to maximise the potential of the contact centre as well as greater integration with adult social care. It is likely this will deliver substantial benefits to the tenants and leaseholders of the council.”

“TUPE costs are also likely to be minimal if, as envisaged, the terms and conditions for Hillingdon Homes’ staff have not deviated significantly from those of the council. However, this would need to be investigated in more detail.”

It is clear that senior officers have done theor homework and recognised the ALMO has had its day.

Barnet UNISON will be pushing that a similar exercise takes place for Barnet Homes.

Tales from Waltham Forest UNISON

What is your name?
Dave Knight

What UNISON branch?
Waltham Forest

What is your branch officer position?
Branch Secretary

Have any of your services been privatised? Please explain?
A number of our services have been privatized. Our refuse collection has gone out to a company called Verdant, our street cleaning and grounds maintenance to Kier Street Services, our street lighting to May, Gurney, Cartledge, our highways to Rineys. Our education authority function is with VT and our Careers Service is with VT Enterprise. Our housing is with Ascham Homes (an ALMO). We have Outlook running some adult residential unit and a lot of our Home Care is now out with organizations like Leonard Cheshire (the firm featured on the Panorama programme). Our building Consultancy has gone out to NPS.

There are a whole host of procurements for individual projects as well. We have Trust schools. We have Academy schools. And it feels to me that many of our councillors – we are a hung Council led by a Lib-Lab coalition. Locally we continue to argue against every privatisation. Our observation is that privatization does not work, it serves merely to deflect our taxes that should go directly into supporting public services, into private pockets. It is tempting for businesses and councillors to enter into corrupt arrangements and it is amazing how naïve the politicians are in believing that these entrepreneurs have our communities at heart. As far as I can see all they want is our money.

We have fought with some success at times. Three elderly persons homes and our Revenues and Benefits teams have been brought back in house after being outsourced. We fight by being part of our trade council, organizing demos and lobbying politicians. We also ensure that failings get publicized in the local rag.

Do you know if there are any plans to share services with other public sector organisations in your borough?
We believe that there are some plans to consider shared services. Our in house cleaning team and our call centre are two services where we think management might be planning something.

Do you have any privatisation proposals in your borough?
Privatisation Proposals are pretty common. We have one that has just started which is to offer up our Children with Disabilities Respite unit for a tendering exercise

What do you think will be the big challenges for public Services over the next four years?
Over the next four years I think we will have massive challenges. If the Tories win the next election I am pretty sure they will come after our jobs, our pay and our pensions. They may even move towards scrapping local authorities. And I don’t see the Labour agenda being much different. What has to change, if we are to stand a chance, is the attitude of our trade unions. We need to transform into campaigning unions willing to support members who want to fight back.

What is your message to Barnet UNISON members?
So we would send a message of solidarity to our colleagues in Barnet that basically says “Keep fighting – Justice must win out in the end for public sector services”.

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.

“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.

Tales from London UNISON branches”

I thought it would be a good idea if Barnet UNISON members had the opportunity to hear about what is going on in other London councils. It is important for members to get an understanding about what is happening and how the branches are responding. Over the next few months UNISON branch secretary’s from across London will be answering a few questions from me.  

What is your name?
Matthew Waterfall

What UNISON branch?
Hackney Local Government

What is your branch officer position?
Branch Secretary

Have any of your services been privatised? Please explain?
A few have been privatised but others have come back in house. Hackney was burnt around the turn of the century when it let massive sections like Waste and Benefits which were privatised out to Service Team and IT Net respectively. These contracts worked so badly that the council was later forced to bring them back in. What we do find is that smaller contracts are often let out without much consultation etc with the unions. On the plus side though we were recently successful in campaigning for the majority of the estate cleansing service to be brought back in house. The major down side is that education in Hackney is run by a private firm called the Learning Trust who have done nothing to improve the lot of our mainly female membership in the 7 years since they took the contract on. As of today support staff in schools are still to go through single status and the result of that is low pay and poor treatment. Hackney Unison will continue to campaign to get education back in house, run by elected councillors rather than unaccountable board members.

Do you know if there are any plans to share services with other public sector organisations in your borough?
Not heard of any plans thus far but always on the look out

Do you have any privatisation proposals in your borough?
Nothing major at the moment

What do you think will be the big challenges for public Services over the next four years? The next four years pose the biggest challenge that our members in local govt have ever seen. The Tories are likely to win the next election and that can only be bad for public services. Our chief executive is talking of cuts as big as 20% which will devastate the workforce. This is why it is so important for members to stand strong together and for the national and regional union officers to provide us with the support we need now so that we are better placed to fight the cuts when they do come.

What is your message to Barnet UNISON members
Barnet and Hackney have a long history of working together in educations and we will always stand shoulder to shoulder with our comrades to the north. We realise what members in Barnet are having to put up with dealing with future shape and ludicrous headline grabbing schemes like ‘Easy Council’ and we share your distain. Having worked personally with your branch over the past couple of years it is great to see a branch with such a strong sense of solidarity and comradeship and as long as members in the borough can keep this going then I believe that although the times ahead may not be easy you will be strong enough to reject the worst aspects of what the Council is trying to do there.

Health Warning: “Don’t get old!”

“Don’t get old! “

That’s the message after watching Panorama on Monday 24th August. Listening to 89 year old Fred O’Donnell you could help but admire his optimism and fight after everything he has been through. Sad to hear him refer to council as the enemy, for a soldier who survived imprisonment during WW2 it was a powerful statement.  

You can view the programme by clicking on this link http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00mbvn3/Panorama_Gimme_Shelter/

500,000 people live in sheltered housing, I wonder which political party is going to wake up and see that votes at stake. 

I have spent many years working with older people, so it was great to see them standing up for their rights. Usually it is difficult to get older people to speak out for themselves, they often they fear services will be removed if they complain. 

In Northampton the Council attempted to marginalise the campaign Fred and his friends are organising by claiming there were 3,000 residents who are happy with the new service. When Panorama went out to meet these ‘happy’ residents it was all to clear they were not happy, they had accepted that there was nothing they could do, ‘so what is the point complaining?’  

If we know older people are frightened to complain why do we treat them like this?  

Social Workers often claim their clients are not seen as a priority, with more focus on children’s services. It is hard to ignore these claims when you look at the state of services for older people. If Panorama had the time and money to go to every council what would they uncover in home care, residential & nursing home services? 

If we don’t die young, we will all old get old,  and in today’s society where we no longer live within walking distance from our parents, uncles, aunties etc so it is important we have services that reflect needs of the community. 

What Councils & Commissioners are missing is the security aspect of a warden living on site. In Barnet and across the country it appears that this is not seen as relevant or important, yet in the consultation in Barnet it was one of the most popular issues raised by residents.

We might all agree it is unacceptable, but people are increasingly frightened about going out in the communities they live. It is perfectly understandable that for residents this is a serious issue.  

Watch some of these video diaries to hear for yourself

http://www.barnetunison.me.uk/?q=node/282 

On the programme last night a statement from the government was read out. I have an idea for the Government.  

Why not ask the 500,000 residents living in sheltered housing the following questions 

“Would you like a live in Warden Service?” 

“Would you prefer a floating support service?” 

Once the results are gathered, you will know what services you need to commission. 

In Barnet, we are talking about a ‘new relationship with residents’. These are bold, brave words, but I am not confident everyone understands what this means. What would happen if we take those words and applied them to older people living in Barnet?

What would their response be to the above questions? 

I already can hear some scoff at my naivety, we don’t have the funding. But that should not stop these questions being asked. If we have funding issues let’s deal with them knowing what our residents want. We can’t have a new relationship with residents if we change the rules or don’t make it clear what the parameters are. All this does is ‘turn off’ residents from bothering. Apathy is the biggest enemy of democracy, politicians have an opportunity to re-ignite local democracy, but will they? 

Panorama – Sheltered Housing

Tonight at 8.30 BBC Panorama is reporting on the mass closure of sheltered housing services across the UK. One of the places they filmed was Barnet, so make sure you are sitting in front of the TV tonight.  To give you an insight into what is going on read this http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_8214000/8214172.stm

Did you read the above story?

How does democracy work, we are consulted and say we don’t want this, then they still go ahead…..Politicians just don’t get it ……! 

One of the positives of this campaign is the growth of Sheltered Housing UK ,a resident led organisation, opposing the mass closure of on site wardens across the UK 

SHUK have managed to get on to the 4th Plinth in Trafalgar Square. Every hour someone else gets to stand on the plinth for one hour.  

On 26 August at  6pm, Viv Todd will stand on the 4th Plinth you can view her live by clicking on this link http://www.oneandother.co.uk/

 

 

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