UNISON and the other trade unions have been working hard to develop ways of working in the future which will allow City Council services to be delivered as effectively as possible while aiming to avoid compulsory redundancies and maintain the existing pay protection agreement.
This is a tremendous challenge for unions, staff and Manchester City Council, not least given the sheer size of the cuts expected to be announced by the ConDem Government in their Comprehensive Spending Review on 20 October. Threats of cuts of up to 40% have already led to notices of compulsory redundancies in some parts of the country.
In the last week in Greater Manchester we have regretfully seen Oldham and Bury Councils announce their proposals around possible compulsory redundancies – even before the scale of the ConDem cuts have been announced. In Birmingham all staff have been told that there will be redundancies unless they accept major cuts in their terms and conditions. The redundancy notices in other areas may have already impacted on your families and friends.
Manchester City Council has reaffirmed that it is committed to working to protect its workforce while, equally, seeking to maintain and improve delivery of services wherever possible. The m people pathway is the Council’s intended way of enabling the workforce to work more flexibly and is also a recognition that the present redeployment process – though a very useful mechanism to deliver workforce movements in the past – has not always worked well and has been viewed by some employees as negative in terms of their experience of the process.
A different approach is vital if we are to able to best maintain and improve, wherever possible, our services to the people of Manchester in such a way that we can also defend our workforce from the threats that workers in other areas are already facing.
The proposed m people process has been the subject of a great deal of consultation over many months. Should it be agreed by our membership, it is a process that will, at some point over the next few years, involve all employees.
It will support the Target Operating Models that are currently being drawn up in Directorates by Directorate Management Teams to look at how the anticipated budget reductions which will be imposed by the ConDem Government can be addressed and ways in which services can be reorganised and costs reduced.
Manchester City Council has made it very clear that it is committed to having a highly skilled workforce both to help deliver quality services and to improve workers’ skills and employability. These are not just words. Money for training from various sources of up to £18 million (from skills fund and internal training budgets) will be available to allow staff to develop their skills. This is a massive commitment to the development of individual staff in the face of what we expect to be savage Government attacks on local government as a service.
The start of everyone’s introduction into m people will be to have a skills assessment by way of a competency assessment based on the new Council values of ‘People, Pride and Place.’
The m people protocol is the product of a consultation process which has been open and positive. The final procedure has been subjected to more than 15 draft versions in looking to agree the most effective process through which the Council can ensure more effectively that the right staff are in the right role at the right time.
However, trade unions have ensured that individuals who may have concerns either about their skills’ assessments or any proposed new role can have this reviewed as detailed in the m people protocol. Where the procedure appears to have been misapplied, either in the skills’ assessment or in the nature of a temporary placement or job offer, trade unions will raise any relevant issues. The trade unions are also part of the Quality Assurance Panel which will monitor the development of m people and evaluate overall outcomes and equalities impact.
Trade unions will be fully involved in the development of m people and will raise the need for any changes necessary in the light of experience as m people is implemented throughout the Council.
Protracted delays over restructures – which, in the past, led to the slow movement of staff to areas where they were needed – will no longer be sustainable in the future if we are to defend both services and the ability to continue to protect staff from redundancies as well as cuts in pay and service conditions, which we are already seeing being threatened elsewhere.
The procedure (the m people protocol), Frequently Asked Questions, the new employment flexibility clause and the joint statement from the Chief Executive, the lead Member for Personnel and Finance and the trade unions are being sent out for your information.
Essentially there are two changes which permeate throughout:
· As a process, m people will replace our existing redeployment agreement.
· The latter served both the Council and staff well in many ways in the past, but it was also weakened by delays in the process and it was not seen as a positive process by some.
However, the essential point is that the redeployment procedure itself simply could not cope with the sheer scale of the future need to allocate staff quickly and effectively to where they are most needed. While m people is about an entirely different way of staff moving as needed across the Council, in terms of an organisational procedure, the second major change is what it means to staff as individuals.
At present all staff know that they could be asked to work in any Council workplace. In future staff could be asked to work in any reasonable alternative role, on the same basis with reasonable notice. This, however, is not new as it underpins moves within the existing redeployment scheme and many staff have experienced a number of moves during their employment with the Council.
The difference comes in the scale of the potential number of staff who may need to be moved to different roles, and more quickly, than may have been the case in the past. To defend staff and reduce costs the Council has committed itself to recruiting to vacancies and new roles primarily through only considering existing staff in the first instance.
In the future only specialist posts where we do not have the particular skills needed readily available and cannot quickly train staff, for example qualified social workers, and gaps at entry grade will be filled externally. The trade unions will have a place at weekly vacancy panels to ensure that we can raise concerns at any proposals to fill posts externally when we believe that such posts could be filled internally with training if this is necessary and achievable.
Where there are any concerns that assessment outcomes were incorrect or where placements or new jobs/roles are not appropriate (this will not normally be the case) trade unions will clearly represent members concerns.
In addition to improving the best use of our staffing resource the use of consultants is being reviewed and in future they will only be contracted where absolutely necessary. Even where their use is required there will be a planned skills transfer to existing staff so the use of consultants will be lessened in the future when faced with similar circumstances.
Apart from the above, the Council is looking to meet expected Government cuts by utilising better procurement, the joint sharing of services with other Councils – where this makes sense – and more effective use of Council assets and buildings.
Prior to and during the ballot period we, as a Branch, committed ourselves to holding as many local meetings with members as possible to answer questions and, so far, over 30 meetings have been held.
Details of the final proposals will be available on the Branch website, which has been recently revamped. The Branch is committed to defending members against compulsory redundancies, retain our pay protection arrangements and to work with the Council to best provide services using available resources to the maximum.
The Branch Executive considered the proposals on 22 September and agreed unanimously to approve the m people proposals and to recommend all members to support them in this ballot of Council UNISON members.
All members are urged to take part in this ballot so that, whatever the outcome, we have a clear view of our membership’s feelings on this issue. It is vital to all of our futures, so please take the time to return your ballot paper by noon on 15 November, 2010.