Unions’ fury over Argyll and Bute cuts plan

Argyll and Bute Council's Lochgilphead HQ.
Argyll and Bute Council's Lochgilphead HQ.

The five main trade unions representing Argyll and Bute Council workers have aimed a furious blast at the authority for the way it has conducted its ‘Service Choices’ programme of proposed major cuts in jobs and services.

Representatives of UNISON, Unite, the GMB, the EIS and UCATT accused the council of developing a ‘bunker mentality’ by developing savings proposals without thinking of the impact they might have on other departments.

In their joint statement the unions also hit out at the council’s plans to consult the public on its proposals for cuts in both jobs and services, saying they do not believe they are “adequate, responsible or accountable”.

The statement, to which are appended the names of Kevin MacIntosh (UNISON), Elaine Dougall (Unite), Brian Johnstone (GMB), Billy Marshall (EIS) and Paul Bennett (UCATT), reads as follows.

“The Joint Trades Unions of Argyll and Bute reject the notion that the austerityprogramme being pursued by the Westminster Government is necessary and that there is no reason, other than political dogmatism, for inflicting cuts on the public services of the United Kingdom. The damage that the austerity programme is doing to Argyll and Bute is clearly at odds with the council’s Single Outcome Agreement.

“To support the aims of the Single Outcome Agreement the council must work at diverting the wealth that exists in Argyll and Bute (which is clear in the marinas, many of the permanent homes and holiday houses in the County) whether that be through a change in taxation at UK level or of the unsustainable council tax freeze.

“The joint trade unions will seek to work with community campaigns to build the growing opposition to austerity. We will also encourage our members to get involved in such campaigns, to lobby and challenge politicians and to use their votes to oppose austerity. Elected members who want to join us in this alliance will be welcomed.

“The joint trades unions were not invited to be part of the initial compiling of the Service Choice package templates. Had we been part of that process we would have built into the templates an overview of the work of the council.

“This we did in the templates we shared with the council that we used to focus our own discussions around the council’s proposals. The principles that the joint trades unions used were the impact on: staffing; service delivery; the community; and the vulnerable, along with the degree of innovation contained in the proposal. We also looked at the likelihood of achieving the savings proposed.

“As a result the choices developed by the council’s templates have created a bunker mentality with each area of the Council proposing cuts without regard

to the effect on other council services.

“Despite assurances that ‘salami slicing’ would not be pursued as the modus operandi it is clear that the separate Service Choice areas have followed that model.

“Despite having had a two year lead into this process we have detected little in the way of an imaginative and innovative approach to the review of Services Choices/cuts.

“The joint trade unions do acknowledge that they have been given access to the Services Choices/cuts process to date and welcome that. We will continue to engage with the process seeking always to achieve the best outcome possible for our members and in doing so will be guided by the principles we have set out above.

“However our engagement in the process has been hampered by secrecy and confidentiality attached to it which has diminished our ability to meaningfully engage with our members and the council with the public.

“There is a danger that those interests with the most economic and social power will be able to exert greater influence than those who are disadvantaged. Unless tackled the likely result of which will be faits accomplis being presented to the public and the workforce.

“A new timetable needs to be created to allow an overview of Services Choices/cuts and specifically the knock-on effect to other areas of the

council’s work and community groups affected by changes.

“To protect the economic aims of the Single Outcome Agreement all Services Choices/cuts should have the protection of jobs as the number one goal.

“All of the council services should, before considering cuts in service be looking at innovative and imaginative ways of widening their potential for creating income both inside Argyll and Bute and from outwith the county.

“All innovative approaches should be properly costed with appropriate business plans drawn up in order that the council’s financial reserves can be used as a seed capital for increasing income into Argyll and Bute.

“We note the decision to exclude Teachers and those registered with the SSSC from the current trawl for voluntary severance. We seek an assurance that should any of these posts come in to scope at a later date that they will be afforded access to a trawl for voluntary redundancy on terms no less favourable than those who respond to the September 2015 trawl.

“We do not believe the proposals for public consultation are adequate, responsible or accountable. The level of cuts proposed will be profoundly negative for the people of Argyll and Bute and it is therefore right and proper that elected members and chief officials make every effort to engage with the public face to face via public meetings.

“The deadline of February for the first round of major savings is unsustainable. The decision to bring forward cuts proposals of £3.79m in excess of those the council states it requires is creating huge additional uncertainty and stress in the workforce and communities.

“There is also cynicism about the putting up of so many cuts options at this stage and the ultimate withdrawal of many options is a crude attempt to mask the real cuts.

“The council’s Service Package approach has lacked robustness both within the aims of the Single Outcome Agreement and in the aim of avoiding ‘salami slicing’.

“Innovative approaches to the future planning of Argyll and Bute Council services must become part of the culture. Without a comprehensive overview of the council’s work it will be impossible to sustain the Single Outcome Agreement.

“Without a comprehensive public consultation across Argyll and Bute it will be impossible for the electorate to understand the need for change or support members in the decisions that are taken.

“If the level of jobs envisaged being lost from the council was to be happening in any other sector the council would rightly, we assume, be calling

on the Scottish and Westminster governments to join in a taskforce to help those affected.

Our members live and work in Argyll & Bute; they will struggle to find alternative employment and will need every support to do so.

“We do not believe that the approach and methodology followed by the council to date in relation to evaluating what to cut is consistent with the six long term outcomes set in the 2013–2023 Single Outcome Agreement.

“Innovative and bold public sector solutions are required - at a time when Argyll and Bute is reaching for the stars via its bid to be the base of the UK Spaceport it is self defeating to consign to a black hole the key public services that are the foundations of the social and economic fabric in the area.

“Unless the council substantially reforms its approach to the budgetary process the Trades Unions will find themselves protecting members’ interests by working against the council rather than protecting members’ interests by working with the council.”