Open letter to Cllr Barry Rawlings Leader of Barnet Council

Dear Councillor Rawlings,

We are Barnet UNISON Mental Health Social Workers. Mental Health Social Workers have taken 9 of 32 announced strike dates. We took strike action as a last resort after 18 months of trying to negotiate with senior managers at Barnet Council about concerns that mental health social work services are not able to run at a safe level because there are not enough social workers, particularly experienced social workers, to meet rising demand. As a consequence, waiting lists continue to rise to dangerous levels and burnt-out staff are leaving for better paid social work roles in universities with no statutory responsibility, or better paid specialist roles in the NHS. In the last 12 months 14 permanent and locum mental health social workers have left their roles, in addition since the strikes began 2 more social workers have since handed in their notice taking the total to 16 social workers or 66 % of social workers, will have left in the space of one year.  Furthermore, locums who come and go in a short period of time can also negatively impact people with mental ill-health who benefit from consistency and the trust they are able to build with the professionals they work with.

We recognise the context of 13 years of a Tory government which has taken a scythe to vital public services. However, Barnet Labour Council cannot hide behind this fact to abstain themselves from any responsibility for providing a safe mental health service in Barnet. In 2022 when Barnet Labour took an absolute majority in Barnet for the first time in almost 50 years, you said that you would work with residents to “make big changes to the borough”. For mental health social work services those changes have meant a waiting list in community mental health services that has grown from about 4 months to 15 months and a staff retention crisis.

Barnet Labour were elected on a manifesto pledge to “champion good mental health and increase a Barnet Charter for Mental health”. This sounded promising but in reality, this new charter was launched without any input or discussion with community mental health social workers, on a day when mental health social workers were picketing the same building.

We have been disappointed in Barnet Labour Council’s response to our strike. We have seen quotes given to media from councillors which parrot the same line that senior managers have been telling Barnet UNISON for 18 months. Repeating false claims that there isn’t a recruitment and retention issue in mental health social work. These are claims for which we have repeatedly and consistently asked senior managers to provide evidence, but none has been forthcoming. It is examples like these which Barnet Labour must take responsibility for and should not be hiding behind the inadequacies of central government mismanagement.

As a Labour Council we ask for you to show solidarity with not only UNISON members who deserve fair pay but more importantly Barnet residents who deserve a safe service and no waiting lists. We are asking for your help to bring an end to this dispute, reverse the decline in mental health social work services and make Barnet an example that other local authorities can aspire to emulate.

We are asking for a meeting with you to discuss how we can achieve this.

Yours sincerely,

Barnet UNISON Mental Health Social Workers.