The Manchester City Council broadcast message of 3rd January to all staff detailed the Council’s proposals in respect of the budget for the period 2017 / 20.
Whilst the scale of the cuts is smaller than previously forecast it still involves proposed major reductions across the Council up to a level of £30 million including:
- Adult Social Care – £12 million
- Children Services – £1.62 million
- Corporate Core – £10.56 million
- Growth and Neighbourhoods – £7.22 million
- Strategic Development – £0.35 million
These Government cuts will impact on the level of Council services and also on our members struggling to deliver services amid continuous year on year budget cuts.
Manchester UNISON will continue to support all our members individually and collectively in the reviews and restructures which will follow once the budget has been approved by the Council following further consultation on the proposals.
It is positive news that there are no proposals in terms of compulsory redundancies. It is also clear that, given the very minimal proposed reductions in staff, there is no general Voluntary Early Retirement or Voluntary Severance scheme and only a very small number of staff are likely to be allowed to leave under the normal discretionary scheme.
In the context of not being in as severe a budgetary position as in the last seven years, the following paragraph in the Council broadcast is unclear to say the least:
‘The draft budget proposals do include a saving of £3m to be achieved by streamlining HR policies. At this stage there is no specific changes being proposed to achieve this saving. Instead, we want to work with staff and trade unions to explore how the wider workforce cost could be reduced without further reducing the number of posts. We’d like to encourage you to make your own suggestions and you can do this either by contacting your trade union representative or speaking with your line manager or Head of Service. Any specific proposals that go forward would be subject to formal consultation with staff and trade unions’
This ‘target saving’ of £3m in workforce costs is the only area in the whole budget where no reasoning whatsoever is given as to how such savings can be achieved and the paragraph itself says there are no specific proposals at present. The detailed budget proposals make it clear that in any event the £3m target is not intended to be achieved in the financial year 2017 / 18 but in the years 2018 / 20.
Given the lack of any specific or even general explanation of how savings could be achieved UNISON has asked how the target of £3m has been set but no information has been forthcoming. Instead the Council has asked individual staff to suggest to managers means of reducing workforce costs without further reducing the number of posts.
That is a matter for individuals but UNISON represents all members on a collective basis.
The paragraph is silent on staff terms and conditions. Whilst none are at present the subject of any changes or cuts, there has been a suggestion that in overall terms they are not ‘sustainable going forward’. To avoid endless speculation over the next year UNISON has made it clear to the Council that we completely reject any proposed attacks on our staff terms and conditions most of which have been in place for decades.
The Council did not threaten them at the time when the threat of compulsory redundancies was very real nor when over 5,000 jobs were lost through voluntary severance.To even suggest such attacks when the staffing position is relatively settled is completely unacceptable as it would be an assault on the very staff who have worked so hard throughout years of budget crisis to do their best to deliver services to people and are expected to continue to in Our Manchester.
UNISON will do everything in its power to resist any attacks but, given none have been specifically proposed, hopes the Council will continue not to put any forward. Having made clear our position on terms and conditions UNISON will continue to constructively work with the Council on areas where costs can be reduced.
UNISON agreed to electronic conciliation of individual agreements in respect of staff who left voluntarily rather than use solicitors. This had no adverse impact on the staff concerned but saved the Council over £1m in legal fees.
In terms of suggestions for cost savings UNISON has made a number of proposals:
- A significant reduction in the number of consultants across the Council where the costs to the Authority are massive.
- For those who need to be retained an end to exorbitant ‘day rates’ for consultants many of whom stay a year or more and should be moved onto fixed term contracts at less cost.
- An end to the use of private sector staff agencies and direct employment of staff without the parasitic agency fees.
- An end to the culture of long term suspension of staff avoiding the cost of covering posts for six months or more in some cases.
- More effective sickness monitoring and support to enable staff to be able to return to work earlier.
UNISON is prepared to discuss positively any proposals to reduce costs that do not attack staff.
The Council has suffered a cut of over 50% of its budget in the last seven years.
If savings of just 1% of the £330m costs of renovating the Town Hall could be found that would meet the £3m target in full.
UNISON will engage in any process whilst also defending our members. We will update members of any developments at the Annual General Meeting to be held on Monday 6 February. You can attend at either 1.30pm or 5pm at the Friends Meeting House.