Vital local council services collapsing

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VITAL local services are collapsing, council workers have warned in a new survey conducted by their union, Unison. Unison warned that Tory cuts have ‘left councils across the UK unable to meet the needs of local communities and, in some cases, are putting the public at risk.’

A survey, released to coincide with the union’s local government conference, reveals that eight in ten (79%) council workers have no confidence in the future of local services. The survey also states that half (50%) are thinking of leaving their jobs for less stressful work elsewhere.

The survey – of 21,000 local government employees working across all services – reveals that two-thirds (67%) say residents don’t receive help and support when they need it, and more than half (54%) are not confident vulnerable residents are ‘safe and cared for’.

Council staff who took part in the survey shared stories of families living in mouldy, overcrowded properties; fly-tipping being left for weeks; increasing rodent populations; residents’ cars damaged by huge potholes; and vulnerable children, young people and adults not getting the help and support they need.

In the conference yesterday, Glasgow janitors and Birmingham social workers received standing ovations as they told delegates of their fight to protect their jobs, pay and working conditions.

Bill Petrie, one of the Glasgow janitors, told the story of the ‘Justice4Jannies’ campaign which lasted 20 months and resulted in a huge victory for the janitors.

The dispute started in March 2015, when the janitors found out that they were missing out on a ‘working context and demands payment’, worth £520 a year, which other similar workers were getting. The janitors lodged a collective grievance over this, but in January 2016 they lost the case.

They then started a work-to-rule action, which led to Cordia, the council-owned firm that employed them, trying to reduce the janitor service by 30%. ‘Then we decided to escalate to strike action, which lasted for 67 days,’ said Petrie.

The janitors launched a campaign of marches, demos and social media, which eventually led to victory. The deal they won included the introduction of one janitor for each school, creating 22 new posts, plus another five relief janitors; a 6% pay rise; a four-hour cut in weekly working hours; and a return to full council employment for the janitors.

The final icing on the cake came with the announcement that Cordia, would cease to exist from September this year. Homecare workers and Unison reps Mandy Buckley and Millicent Gaile from the West Midlands talked about their current dispute with Birmingham council over redundancies and the imposition of a new rota system. They say the changes would destroy the quality of the service they provide.

‘Our members thought they were unsupported, but now they feel that they have a voice, like the Dagenham strikers or the suffragettes,’ said Buckley. ‘We’re not fighting for the money – we’re fighting for good quality care.’