The country’s largest civil service union, PCS, has condemned the suggestion that public servants should put forward ideas for spending cuts as ‘breathtakingly arrogant and deceitful’.
Responding last Thursday to Cameron and Clegg’s letter to Britain’s six million public servants, the union said it was clearly a gimmick, designed to back up the claim that ‘we’re all in this together’.
The union argues that cuts are unnecessary and fundamentally unfair and is calling for a campaign across the trade union movement and in local communities for an alternative approach.
Contrary to the government’s claims that public spending is out of control, PCS says spending in the UK is amongst the lowest in Europe.
The union is calling on the government to plug the budget deficit by ploughing resources into collecting the £130 billion of tax that is evaded or avoided each year by Britain’s wealthiest citizens, rather than cutting hard working civil and public servants.
The proposed ‘Robin Hood Tax’ on financial speculation could raise $400 billion globally.
Stopping the replacement of Trident nuclear weapons would save £78 billion over 30 years.
Millions could also be saved by getting rid of consultants and from the waste of holding 230 separate pay negotiations in the civil and public services.
Millions more could be saved from putting an end to privatisation.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘Asking public servants to vote for their own cuts is breathtakingly arrogant and deceitful.
‘Far from being “all in this together”, the approach the government is taking will hit the poorest and most vulnerable in society the hardest.
‘As well as massive welfare cuts it is also freezing the pay of the very public sector workers that Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg now thank for their hard work.
‘We need investment in public services, not cuts, to help pull the economy out of recession. Creating jobs would boost employment and tax revenue.’
Responding to the Prime Minister’s invitation to public sector workers to suggest ways of cutting out waste in the public sector, Unison General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said: ‘Of course Unison members will co-operate in any exercise that helps cut out waste and delivers value for money for the taxpayer.
‘They have been co-operating with the Gershon reviews for the past three years and have delivered efficiency savings of six per cent.
‘But the Prime Minister is misleading the country by claiming that you can shave a massive 25 per cent off budgets just by cutting “waste”.
‘The efficiency savings made over the past three years have cut out most of the waste – there is very little fat left to cut.
‘There is no escaping the fact that a 25 per cent cut will inevitably strike deep into the heart of the vital services that we all rely on.
‘But it will hit the poorest and the most vulnerable the most.
‘I would urge the government to revisit these impossible cuts and consider what devastation they will cause to our society and our local communities.’
Prentis went on to slam the government’s plan to raise the retirement age to 66 by 2016.
He said: ‘The government seems hard-wired into attacking the most vulnerable in society.
‘Workers who have to rely on their state pension to make ends meet, will have no option but to carry on going for another year – whatever the cost to their health – but the better off will be able to retire earlier. One rule for the rich, another for the poor.
‘It may be a choice for the fit and healthy to keep on going for another year at work, but for some, work takes a terrible toll on their health.
‘Many workers across the public and private sector do very physically demanding jobs where carrying on until 66 is not a safe or practical option.
‘You cannot expect paramedics to carry patients down flights of stairs or out from under cars into their late sixties.
‘The same pressures fall on nurses, street cleaners, gardeners, home care workers, cooks, road diggers, engineers and cleaners not to mention the mental stress of working in very pressured environments like social work, in schools and universities.
‘This lack of joined up thinking will pile more misery on workers, as well as increasing the long-term costs to our NHS.’
• Meanwhile, a report from OFSTED ‘Food in schools – Progress in implementing the new standards’, shows that despite improvements in the quality of free school meals, take up remains a problem for some low income parents because of stigma, complexity, and constant movements in and out of entitlement.
Too many pupils in low income families are not entitled to free school meals but many struggle to finance healthy packed lunches.
In response to the report, Child Poverty Action Group’s Head of Policy, Rights and Advocacy, Imran Hussain, said: ‘This report cites shocking instances of low income families whose children are not entitled to free school meals, struggling to provide healthy food for their children.
‘One family had to arrange for two children to take turns and eat a school meal on alternate weeks.
‘We are dismayed that just as OFSTED stresses the importance of extending free school meals to all low income families, the government is shelving plans to extend free school meals to poor working families with children in primary school.
‘This decision will damage children’s health and their ability to engage in the educational process, and keep levels of in-work poverty high. It will leave an additional 50,000 children in poverty.
‘Cancelling the extension of free school meals, alongside a backdrop of cuts put in place by an Emergency Budget, will place the budgets of ordinary working families under considerable additional stress.
‘Cuts in support to children are an unacceptable way to tackle a debt and the deficit, and add to the risk that the government will fail to meet its goal of ending child poverty by 2020.
‘CPAG urges the government to urgently reconsider its decision and retain the extension of free school meals to all low income families.’