Newbury Labour is supporting local people being made compulsorily redundant by West Berkshire Council. UNISON West Berkshire Local Government Branch has written this post to share with our members:
By some reports, 700,000 people have lost their job as a result of the pandemic.
Why are UNISON so energised about just three posts being shed by West Berkshire Council?
Firstly, this is a needless change. It is not driven by a need to save money. There has been no evidence provided to UNISON that it will improve the services that customers receive.
It might make some sense if the staff in question were bad at their jobs, had disciplinary issues, or the work they do is expected to disappear. None of this is true. None have any issues with their service, all have been employed for a considerable time. They are all local people, living and working within the boundaries of the district.
The “reorganisation” simply takes three posts and moves them around with the end result the council will employ three NEW staff to cover their duties. The overall salary for the new staff will be roughly equivalent to the current salaries of the existing staff. UNISON is utterly bewildered as to what the reason for this “reorganisation” could really be given these facts.
Secondly, it will actively cost the Council, and therefore West Berkshire residents, money. Quite aside from the waste represented by displacing three high-performing staff only to replace them with three new hires, this will cost money by way of redundancy payments, as well as losses of efficiency in “bedding in” new employees to learn systems and familiarise themselves with the organisation.
Thirdly, the council has expended huge effort in painting itself as a “caring and compassionate” organisation. Council Leader Lynne Doherty (Conservative Speen) wrote only a month ago in the Newbury Weekly News that her administration were “caring and compassionate Conservatives” and that she is “immensely proud of the work that the dedicated staff at the council have done” (letters, 31 Dec 2020). Meanwhile, in the midst of a pandemic that has already killed 100,000 people, her organisation is moving to dump and replace three staff for reasons that are beyond reasonable comprehension.
Fourthly – this is being done in your name, as a resident of the area.
Do you recall being asked? The reorganisation is intended to affect services you receive, potentially change how you access them, revise how they work and how they are made available.
Services such as corporate complaints about the council, requests for information and requests for personal data are affected as well as the way in which records of democratic meetings are produced and made available. These are important public-facing functions, not “back office” administrative functions. UNISON believes these are not changes a responsible local authority can just implement on the basis of a guess that it is what residents want, that it is addressing issues that they think exist, without actually going to the trouble of asking the people of West Berkshire about any of it. The recent Local Government Association Peer Review explicitly identified that a weakness of the council is the fact they rarely perform meaningful consultation that allows the voice of local people to be heard.
The council’s response? Devise a reorganisation of public-facing services without even asking the same local people it will affect.
Lastly, we are extremely dubious about the legality of the move. Our concerns are actually rooted in a wish to avoid any expensive and unpleasant legal actions involving the union and the employer down the line, actions that will simply waste yet more public money. We’d much rather the council saw sense and abandoned this ill-conceived move before any more damage to the already fragile morale of public servants is caused.
By our estimation, the amount being mooted for approval on redundancy payments is equivalent to any one of the following:
- the yearly budget for the West Berkshire Museum
- enough to run SIX branch libraries for a year
- enough to run the council’s Ecology service for FOUR years
- enough to run the council’s Sensory Needs service for a year
- enough to provide bonuses to express gratitude to hard-working key workers in education and social care
You can check these figures yourself – they’re published in the council’s “Budget Book” for 2020/21.
We think given this context, the reorganisation in question is staggeringly tone-deaf, ill-conceived, wasteful and callous.
The vote whether to agree the redundancy payment takes place in the Council’s Executive meeting in the meeting of the 11th February. That part of the meeting will be closed to the public and to media.
UNISON West Berkshire Local Government Branch