As a result of the Brighton and Hove City Council Budget meeting, UNISON is now preparing for a series of disputes with the employer, to defend our members employment and services.
Whilst all decisions are now delayed to Tuesday 3rd March, due to the failure of elected Councilors to reach an agreed budget, it has become very clear that in addition to 20-25 million of cuts, including several hundred posts lost, the political posturing of all 3 political Groups, no doubt with the May elections in mind, is compounding an already disastrous situation.
The joint amendment, from the Labour and Tory Groups, agreed at the meeting, cuts 5 or 6 posts in the Communications section, to “save” the Mayoralty – this information was relayed to staff and UNISON, officially, at 12 noon on the day of the budget. This arbitrary decision takes no account of the fact that this cut is to real people who work hard to project the Council in a positive manner. UNISON will take strike action, if necessary, to ensure our members continued employment.
In addition, the amendment refers to a reduction in contributions to the staff Pension Fund (note: staff pay into the fund at a rate of 5-7%), a move that no previous political group in BHCC has undertaken in previous years. Whilst the amount is relatively small, this “opens the door” for future cuts to pension contributions by a Labour or Conservative administration, and is, bluntly, a disgrace to both Party’s. Any cut will hit the lowest paid, especially part-time women workers, who contrary to the depiction of “gold-plated, local government pensions”, receive approximately 5,200 pounds, after 40 years service.
UNISON will take an internal dispute on this issue with BHCC, and seek advice as to whether the move is legal. Whether it is, or not, the spectre of Robert Maxwell’s “raid” on his employee’s pension fund, comes to mind.
The Labour Party’s amendment, number 6, reinstated 3 Political Assistant posts at the expense of 4 or 5 posts cut from the Assistant Chief Executives section. Previously, all 3 Party’s had agreed that this was an acceptable cut – again, with a few hours’ notice, staff were informed they may now be sacked. Again, UNISON will take strike action to defend these members.
There is, of course, an alternative, whereby all these people could be kept in employment – Councilor’s could take a 20% cut in their Allowances, which are a mere 1 million pounds in total!!!
In overall terms, if there is a failure to set a budget on Tuesday 3rd March, then there is a real prospect that the Conservative Government will send in Whitehall officials, to set a budget. The brief they will be given will be to arbitrarily slash services with a consequence of hundreds more job losses.
UNISON is very clear that the reaction of our members to such an intervention, will be twofold. The Branch membership will be balloted on total non-cooperation with Conservative inspired civil servants, and, second, that we will take all appropriate action to defend our members, the services of the people of Brighton and Hove, and especially the most vulnerable in our community.
Alex Knutsen, Branch Secretary, said
“At the budget meeting, I was appalled at the cynical electioneering of Councilor’s, with no regard to the interests of those they are elected to serve, or the employment of their staff. Plainly, it is of no matter to some of them that our members in Communication’s and Assistant Chief Executives, are told, with a few hours’ notice, that they could be sacked in 3 months time.
The Members who put forward and agreed these amendments, need to be reminded, and UNISON will do so, that our Branch is 4,700 members strong, and with their families account for some 10,000 votes on 7th May. If these proposals return to Council on Tuesday next, the Branch will ensure that it is publicly noted who voted to sack these staff.
Our members will, as they have done before, fight “tooth and nail” for our people’s jobs and for our services.”