Open letter to Director of Adult Social Care – Mental Health social work dispute

Dear James Mass,


We are writing to you today, in the absence of any response to us so far, following our 9 days of strike action. We are deeply disappointed that you have chosen not to acknowledge the strike and, in many ways, feel that we are being treated with contempt. It unfortunately feels in keeping with a wider dismissal of the distress workers have voiced to you in the past 18 months of this dispute. We have always appreciated that in Barnet, senior management regularly interact regularly with practitioners. However, when coupled with the contrast of complete silence during our strike action, the inevitable result has been a deep sense of alienation, frustration and undervaluation.


The past 18 months, and the 14 staff members who have left our teams, demonstrate the dangerous potential of this undervaluation. 1 staff member has already handed in their notice since strike action began, more have formal plans to leave and anecdotally many others have expressed that the lack of response from senior management means they are seriously considering whether to stay. Put simply, your silence has led staff members previously very committed to Barnet to feel that they are in a service which does not make an effort to recognise their worth to the council or the difficulties they are bringing to your attention. We are incredibly concerned about the current recruitment and retention crisis spiralling out of control, leaving remaining social workers unable to provide a service at all, let alone one which is safe for service users and the social workers of whom we have been bereft of since the transformation of mental health social care in 2021. We are therefore urging you to commit to meeting with our representatives and engaging in meaningful dialogue about how we can resolve this situation.


The absence of any negotiation leaves us to reflect on previous responses from you to the conditions which led to this dispute.


We feel dismissed when you deny that our service is in crisis when it is us as practitioners who have to deal with the realities of an up to 15-month waiting list for individuals in mental distress. We are the practitioners assessing individuals whose needs have clearly deteriorated since their referral; who are either referring for Mental Health Assessments or undertaking these assessments at much higher numbers and who are putting in care as urgent hospital discharges for people who have been on our waiting list for months prior to their admission. We know first-hand that this means the care we need to put in place is much more significant than if we had been able to support them closer to their referral. We also know that we are in no position to regularly review and reduce this care, to provide least restrictive support, due to the number of service users needing acute, crisis interventions. Quite simply, unless individuals are presenting in crisis, we are unable to prioritise their care. It is subsequently difficult not to feel that we are in a failing service.


It was therefore also a profound insult to be told that that there is no retention crisis after 14 valued staff members (2 more social workers have handed in their notice since the strike began) , many of whom have been in Barnet for years, have left and told us this resulted from intolerable stress of being part of such a struggling service. We know that current conditions lead to intense anxiety, low satisfaction with work and a pressure to overwork, as quite simply; this is our daily reality. We know this is a recipe for burn-out and that when faced with burn-out, practitioners vote with their feet and leave the service. Subsequently, it is bordering on offensive to dismiss these conditions during a time when the council wishes to prioritise employee well-being as demonstrated by the communication on Mental Health Awareness day. We know the jobs practitioners have taken when leaving Barnet: these are better paid and more adequately resourced/staffed both in and outside of the statutory sector. Barnet has been a big proponent of the Think Ahead graduate scheme as a means of training social workers and encouraging them to stay in Barnet. Yet in the last two years, half of one cohort and 2 out of 5 of the current cohort will have left less than 6 months after finishing their ASYE. This scheme is failing because participants do not want to remain in a service with the current level of stress and chaos. We urge you to listen and prioritise the voices of the social workers that you employ over your own statistics to understand this retention crisis and the way out of it.


It was yet more disappointing to see that you felt our announcement of strike action was asking for special treatment for mental health social workers and pitted us against other social workers and Occupational Therapists in the council. This could not be further from the truth. We value highly the work of our colleagues in Adult Social Care, many of whom shared invaluable knowledge during the transformation to fill the gap of any targeted training for practitioners previously working outside of statutory teams. You are aware of the context for our organising and its genesis in this transformation which initiated our destabilising turnover and resulting spiralling waiting list. To deny this and again attempt to stoke division within social care perpetuates a sense that we have not been listened to. Throughout the dispute we have encouraged other social workers and OTs to take action if they are experiencing similar recruitment and retention problems and will continue to do and support them if they wish to organise. If this does take place, we urge you to learn from our current dispute and engage in the meaningful negotiation that we attempted over and over again prior to our strike action to prevent further disruption to social care.


Not one social worker out on strike wants to be in this position. The decision to strike, and to continue striking, is one which brings intense anxiety given that we know our own workloads, waiting lists and stress levels increase with each day that we are withdrawing our labour. We are in this profession because we want to support vulnerable people experiencing mental distress. You have seen how passionate we are about this work, in reviewing our care plans for panel and shadowing us on visits. You know then, that to take time away from this work is a last resort. However, it is this same commitment and value-base which has made us feel that striking is a necessary extension of our advocacy for service users who are not receiving the standard of care they need.


Each day we are out on strike we are hoping that you will meet with our UNISON reps in order to secure a resolution that will bring this dispute to a close.


Yours sincerely,

Barnet Mental Health Social Workers




Breaking News: UNISON President & Vice President are joining the mass lobby at Hendon Town Hall Tuesday 1 November

News in that our UNISON National President Andrea Egan and UNISON National Vice President Amerit Rait are attending the mass lobby outside Hendon Town Hall on Tuesday 1 November from 6 pm in support of the Barnet Strikers.

“I want to thank both Andrea and Amerit for taking time out of their busy schedules to come down and support our Barnet Strikers. This is what leadership means. It’s what workers want to see from their union. Our branch is 100% behind our Barnet Strikers also known as the “Barnet Ten” and so is the leadership at the top of UNISON. I can’t wait to hear the message they will be bringing to the employer the Barnet Group who defending the indefensible at the expense of Barnet Council housing tenants. 200 repairs jobs a week are being cancelled it’s a disgrace.” (John Burgess Branch Secretary, Barnet UNISON).

Directions to the lobby: Nearest tube is Hendon Central on northern line. Turn right out of the station. It’s a 10 minute walk to the top of the hill. Turn right and 200 yards on the left is the Town Hall.





“The first Red Extreme heat warning issued”: Another tale of two Barnets

“For the first time temperatures of 40°C have been forecast in the UK and the Met Office has issued the first ever Red warning for exceptional heat.”

“A Level 4 UK Health Security Agency Heat Health Alert has been issued for Monday and Tuesday. This is level of alert is used when a heatwave is so severe and/or prolonged that its effects extend outside the health and social care system. At this level, illness may occur among the fit and healthy, and not just in high-risk groups.”

The shocking brutal inequality of being an outsourced worker has reared its ugly head once again here in Barnet.

Whilst Barnet Council agreed that its own workforce should be protected from the extreme weather event next Monday and Tuesday, they have steadfastly refused to ensure the same for the outsourced Parking service which is delivered by NSL.

Barnet Council attempt to defend their decision by stating that this is an essential service yet, parking enforcement was stood down during the initial Covid Pandemic. The only mitigation measures to save our members from being exposed from these unprecedented and life-threatening temperatures is for them to off the streets from 11 am on Monday and Tuesday next week.

Barnet UNISON is calling on Barnet Council to show compassion for these essential workers and allow them the same mitigation measures you have agreed are necessary for Barnet Council staff working outdoors.


Going, going gone, sold to…….what is going on at Apthorp?

Staff and vulnerable residents were told they would have to leave Apthorp by the 31 October 2021.

First, we were told it was closing because the building was unsafe, and the Council could not afford it.

Then we found out that they were carrying on with the refurbishment and that it might be re-opening.

Then we discovered that the Council does not own the property. It belongs to Catalyst Housing. We asked why the Council were spending money on a property they do not own.

No response.

There are 93 care workers at risk of the sack and if Apthorp is closed, however if it is re-opening, we want to be able to work with the employer to prevent loyal care workers from being sacked.

Barnet asked the following questions:

  1. What is reason for the building workers on this property?
  2. Are you re-opening Apthorp as a:
  3. Residential & day care setting
  4. Nursing, Residential, day care setting
  5. Extra care and day care setting
  6. A mixture of all the above
  7. Selling it off to the private sector
  8. Selling it off to a property developer for housing?
  9. Why is Barnet Council spending money on a property they don’t own?

No responses to the above.

Breaking News

Last week we found out that a Gerald Eve estate agent was on site at Apthorp Lodge carrying out an evaluation of the building on behalf of Catalyst Housing.

We have asked what is going on.

  • Why are Catalyst seeking a valuation?
  • Why are Barnet Council paying for refurbishment of a property which they don’t own?
  • Why have Barnet Council not sought costs from Catalyst Housing for allowing it to fall into disrepair and putting the safety of residents at risk.

It appears there is millions for contractors but nothing for care workers who risked their lives during the Covid pandemic.

You can view our care workers latest video message here

You can send messages of solidarity here:



BreakingNews: Will Barnet Council close schools early ?

Hi Ian

I am writing to you in your statutory role to ask if you are aware of the Greenwich Council decision which has appeared online this afternoon?

I attach a copy of the letter sent out to all Greenwich schools by the Leader of Greenwich Council.

Please note he states:

“I have asked all Schools in Greenwich to close their premises from Monday evening and move to online learning for the duration of term, with the exception of key worker children and those with specific needs (exactly the same as the first lockdown).”

Throughout the pandemic we have been advised that Barnet Council are working in line with London Councils. I am assuming this decision has been subject to some discussions with London Councils?

Given the increased likelihood of London going into Tier 3 and perhaps the 23 – 28 December initiative being limited for people living in London is Barnet Council going to try to mitigate the spread by following their lead?

I will be writing to over a thousand plus UNISON members working in Barnet Schools most of which are frightened at the increasing likelihood that there will be more infections in the last week of school and the negative impact it will have on their families.

Stay safe.

Best wishes

John Burgess

Branch Secretary.


0208 359 2088

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BREAKING NEWS:Trade Unions all call for outsourced Schools contract to be brought in-house.




“Barnet Council’s draft Equality Impact Assessment is fundamentally inadequate because it does not assess the impact of the two options on the equality groups and assumes no negative impact. But there is a world of difference in terms and conditions, particularly pensions, between being transferred to the Council and being transferred to a Local Authority Controlled Company which currently does not exist and will be modelled on other Council arms length companies that have inferior terms and conditions. Therefore the Equality Impact Assessment must be rewritten.”

Dexter Whitfield

“Why, why, why are Barnet Council making this crisis worse? The contractor is dumping the contract through no fault of the staff. All the staff want hear from Barnet Council are these two little words “Welcome Back”. The evidence for returning the hard working Education and Skills workforce is contained within the Joint Trade Union report written By Dexter Whitfield.”

John Burgess Branch Secretary, Barnet UNISON.

It is clear that the best option is for Education and Skills to return the council.   Employment will be less attractive with an LACC resulting in it being harder to recruit and retain the experienced staff required and this can only mean an inferior service for schools and the young people of Barnet.

Keith Nason, Secretary Barnet NEU.

“The comparison of key criteria in this report makes it clear to the advantages of an in-house option and I encourage GMB members’ to read this detailed report.

Outsourcing has been bad news for Barnet staff. Time and time again, we have seen private providers fail to deliver while members’ terms and conditions and national agreements have been undermined.

GMB are clear that it is better value for services such as this to be brought back in-house.”

Mary Goodson, GMB Barnet Branch Secretary & Krissy O’Hagan, GMB London Region Organiser.

The following Trade Unions representing workers from Cambridge Education have worked together with their members and Dexter Whitfield to produce a report to Barnet Council.

  • NEU
  • GMB
  • Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP)

Summary of the report

The two options of in-house provision or establishing new Local Authority Controlled Company (LACC) are examined using 12 key criteria (see Table 1) with in-house provision having significant advantages over the latter.

1.The Council’s draft Equalities Impact Assessment is significantly flawed because it concludes there is ‘No Impact’ for any of the equality groups when in fact there is a Positive Impact for all equality groups with the in-house option but a Major Negative Impact for all equality groups with the LACC option.

2. We have examined the ability of Education and Skills to retain and recruit qualified and experienced staff and conclude that the continuity of service and quality of pension schemes are fundamentally important. The LACC option fails on both these criteria.

3. A sustainable motivated workforce to provide the range and quality of services required by schools, parents and children for their physical and mental health is dependent on the retention of the existing staff and the recruitment of new qualified and experienced staff is critically important to ensure high quality services for Barnet Schools.

4. A divided, demoralised workforce as a result of a differential in terms and conditions combined with an inability to retain and recruit qualified staff is inherent in the LACC model and will have a long lasting negative impact in education and the community.

5. The Council has failed to prepare a full Equality Impact Assessment for the consultation process.

6. The Council has stated that the Equality Impact Assessment and the full business case will only be completed after the consultation feedback deadline of 4pm 3 July 2020. This contradicts Government policy set out in the Green Book, and ignores over a decade of established custom and practice in Barnet and is likely to fail to take full account of key and other unforeseen emerging issues.

7. The multinational Mott MacDonald’s use of the Force Majeure contract clause raises many questions given that Barnet’s Education and Skills contract represented just 0.23% of the company’s £771m annual turnover in 2019. The fact that all local authorities with education responsibilities, teachers and parents are confronted by the same impact of COVID-19 raises questions over the real motives of this decision.


1. We strongly recommend that Barnet Council transfers Education and Skills staff from Cambridge Education back to direct employment in the Council.

2. We recommend that the contract management functions of the ISS catering contract, which is going to be novated to the Council, are established in the Education Department.

To View the Full report click on link below

Barnet Why Educ Skills in-house 2020

Notes to Editors.

Contact details: John Burgess Barnet UNISON on or 020 8359 2088 or email:


History of the outsourcing of Schools Meals and Education & Skills services


Catering Services: “Jewel in the Crown”: Privatisation of Education & Skills and Catering in Barnet


Education & Skills and Catering: Threat of large-scale subcontracting

“IMPORTANT Update: Guidance and template letter for vulnerable employees (England)”

28 May 2020.

Please read the latest guidance provided by UNISON

This guidance covers:

1 Clinically extremely vulnerable employees (people at high risk)

2 Clinically vulnerable employees (people at moderate risk)

3 Employees living with / caring for the vulnerable or extremely vulnerable

4 Black employees

5 Older employees (over 60)

6 Employees who have childcare responsibilities

7 Employees who are feeling anxious about returning to work

8 Template letter to head teacher

Click on the link to read the guidance

If you need any help with this advice please contact the branch office at




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