More than 100 members of the three local government unions, Unison, GMB and Unite, held a noisy demonstration over pay, job and service cuts outside the central London headquarters of the Local Government Association on Tuesday.
The unions are accusing Tory-Led councils of using the recession as a smokescreen to cut services, freeze pay and shed jobs, when money is available to keep vital services, such as homecare, running, and keep up much-needed investment in departments including social work.
Councils got a four per cent above-inflation grant from central government this year, and started 2009/10 with more money in reserves than they did the year before. Unallocated reserves have now hit £3 billion.
Council workers have delivered above and beyond the efficiency savings demanded by central government – councils have pocketed the cash difference.
Heather Wakefield, Unison Head of Local Government, said: ‘Under a cloud of financial inevitability, Tory-led councils are using the recession as an excuse to cut pay, shed jobs and shut down valued local services they didn’t support in the first place.
‘Should these plans go ahead, the consequences for social services departments, for home care, youth and community projects, libraries and leisure centres, will be huge.
‘The reality is that councils have enough money to keep vital services running and to pay staff fairly.
‘It is a disgrace that the employers are refusing to even enter into discussions on pay with the unions this year.’
Brian Strutton, GMB National Secretary, said: ‘GMB members in councils up and down the country are disgusted that their employers refuse to even sit down and talk about pay and conditions this year.
‘These workers deliver vital front line services to their local communities caring for the elderly, helping the vulnerable and disadvantaged, supporting children in schools and keeping our cities and streets clean and healthy.
‘They deserve better than the arrogant and insulting attitude they are getting from their employers.
‘GMB calls on local and national politicians of all parties to show respect for council workers and engage with us in meaningful negotiation.’
Peter Allenson, National Officer for Unite, said: ‘Today is about making sure that the Tory-led LGA realise that our members are prepared to fight back.
‘The freeze proposed this year is actually a pay cut, and shows how little the employers value their staff, and through this action, their local community.
‘Unite members have told me quite clearly that they will resist this imposition in whatever way they can, and this is not just about how they are treated, but shows what little regard the employers have to the services that they should be delivering to local taxpayers.
‘There are signs that some employers want to make an offer; shame on those that don’t want to even negotiate.’
The unions put in a claim for 2.5 per cent or for a flat rate increase of £500, whichever is the greater, in January this year. The pay freeze will come into force on Thursday 1 April.
l During the Ask the Chancellors debate on Channel 4 TV on Monday night, with Alistair Darling, George Osborne and Vince Cable, public sector pensions once again came under fire, with demands for cuts and caps.
Unison said it will resist any attempts to renege on pensions’ agreements with its members.
General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said: ‘Once again, public sector pensions are attacked by politicians who want to play to the gallery.
‘Only a few years’ ago we negotiated new pension agreements in the public sector that were affordable and sustainable.
‘And we expect these agreements to be honoured, whichever government is in power.
‘There is a lot of rubbish spoken about public sector pensions, mostly by people who want to see a race to the bottom.
‘But the fact is that workers pay into their pension schemes all their lives and are entitled to receive their pension as part of that contract.
‘The average pension of a woman working in local government is just £2,600 a year – hardly gold-plated.
‘These pensions schemes have proven to be fair and affordable. The local government scheme income exceeded expenditure by almost £6 billion last year.
‘If most public sector workers didn’t save for their retirement by paying into their pension scheme, they would have to rely on state benefits, funded by the taxpayer.
‘We must stop pitting public sector against private sector and accept that it is good economic sense for people to pay into a good pension scheme.
‘The real pensions scandal is the boardroom fat cats, who close pension schemes for their workforce, while lining their pockets with generous retirement packages.’