UNISON SOLIHULL LOCAL GOVERNMENT BRANCH
ANNUAL REPORT 2010 2010 A year in the round The challenges we face as a Branch have changed dramatically since May 2010 and the election of a Con-Dem Government. 10 months on we are starting to see the effect of Government policies, for example with the move to more Academies, and obviously in regard to cuts in to the Council Budget which started with the Emergency budget in June. In making this Annual Report we have tried to provide a picture of the range of the issues and challenges facing our members within the Council and in some of the other Employers where we are organised, as well as how we have a Branch have tried to organise and respond. One of our priorities for this last year has been to build our relationship with the other Council Trade Unions particularly the GMB. We are now regularly meeting and agreeing strategy in dealing with management. This unified approach will be even more necessary in the years ahead.
FEBRUARY Appraisals for School Staff Working together with the GMB and Human Resources the new Corporate Performance and Development Framework was adapted for Schools. The existing appraisal framework was revised to ensure it was relevant to School Support staff. We st consulted with UNISON members in the School’s and the policy went live from 1 April 2010. Our task now is to ensure that the policy is consistently implemented in all Schools and that all Support Staff have an opportunity to be appraised and receive an increment where warranted. As the appraisal year ends we would like to hear from our Schools members whether it has worked for them.
MARCH - It’s a hard days night! The workload of front-line Child Protection staff working on DART was raised in March with the Service Director. Of particular concern was that workers were regularly having to take work home in the evenings and at weekends and were amassing TOIL. UNISON has doggedly pursued the issue of the need for all Children’s Social Work Teams to have up to date risk assessments for work related stress. UNISON’s concern and position were supported by OFSTED in there unannounced visit to DART in September. As a area of development they identified: ‘ A high number of cases are held by some social workers. Capacity to respond across the range of work is only achieved by significant additional hours being worked by individuals.’ In the wake of Baby P case there has been a 23% increase is cases over the last two years without a corresponding increase in workers. The issue of workloads and the effective management of work related stress on Social Work Teams will continue to be an issue for 2011 and will need to be addresses through ‘Health check’.
April 2010 Hope prevails over Hate In May 2006 a BNP Councillor was elected in Chelmsley Wood Ward with just over 600 votes. For the third year running UNISON organised a series of leafleting events in the Ward to persuade local voters to turn out on Polling Day to defeat racism and fascism. Working together with other local Trade Unions over 40 people came out over three th Saturdays and put 8,000 leaflets through letterboxes. The BNP lost the seat on 6 May and while the turnout was vastly improved on 2006 because the local election coincided with the General election, they retained their core vote. UNISON can justly claim to have helped defeat the BNP at the ballot box.
MAY Pay more, work longer and get less th
The General Election on 6 May brought a Conservative Coalition Government committed to public spending cuts. In the run up to the election there was a media campaign against ‘gold plated public sector pensions’ which was taken up by both Cameron and Cable. One of the new Government’s priorities was to appoint Lord Hutton to lead the Public Services Pensions Commission. Hutton’s interim report in October 2010 indicates we will have to pay more contributions, that our retirement age will increase, and the final salary provision will be removed. In other words we can expect to pay more, work longer and get less. We will expect to receive the final report of this Commission later this year to coincide with the Budget. The Government has already acted upon one of Hutton’s recommendations by changing the inflation index for the up rating of our pensions from the RPI to the CPI in a measure that will make us poorer in old age.
JUNE Privatisation never pays
JUNE Emergency Budget Protest
In June UNISON members employed by Parkwood Leisure had their Grievance appeal heard against the Companies refusal to pay them the NJC pay settlement from 2007 onwards. In May 2006 workers at Tudor Grange and North Solihull Leisure Centres were transferred from the employment of the Council to Parkwood Leisure. In spite of public commitments in the period before the transfer the Company has refused to make the cost of living award to transferred staff. The Company delayed the hearing of the Appeal for over 16 months. UNISON argued that there are specific terms in the individual contracts of employment of our Parkwood members which recognises the implementation and payment of national pay awards. This contractual term has not been varied and the Company has not consulted UNISON over its variation. Parkwood refused the appeal hiding behind the Almeo Heron case, which also involves this company, which is awaiting an appeal to the Supreme Court. We are now awaiting the outcome of that appeal case.
Members of our Branch protest against the Emergency budget on 22nd June 2010 outside Government House, in B'ham City Centre. (photo Brian Sheridan)
JULY A big round zero In July UNISON was forced to lodge a freedom of information request to establish what actions the Council had taken to monitor the employment practices of Enterprise, who provide environmental services on its behalf. The answer to the FOI request was that they had done ‘absolutely nothing’ in spite of their responsibilities under Workforce Matters Code. UNISON reps have raised concerns of the widely differing terms and conditions of workers at Enterprise and widespread use of agency staff employed on national minimum wage. The Workforce Matters Code of Practice was introduced by the last Labour Government to prevent the development of a two tier workforce when Council Services are contracted out to private companies. Where privatisation has taken place new workers should be employed on ‘no less favourable term’s to transferred on Council terms and conditions. This statutory guidance places responsibilities on Council’s to set and monitor contracts with Contractors. Under threat of a grievance UNISON has pushed the Council to request key workforce information from Enterprise. The battle that remains to be fought will be what the Council does with this information when they receive it.
AUGUST Get on the bus! th
In the 35 month of negotiation to modify the Council essential mileage scheme the nearly complete proposal was unilaterally withdrawn by Management. The detailed discussions had reached a final stage and new mileage rates for essential car users had been agreed together with a mechanism for indexation. There was never any new money on the table but the proposal under discussion would have seen a move from the banded system to payment for miles driven. At the Solihull Contract meeting in August Management announced a new proposal to introduce a mileage scheme based on HMRC rate of 40p per mile and to abolish the distinction between essential and casual car users. Our essential car users have advised us that this will leave them over £500 short each year compared to what they receive under the existing scheme. UNISON has been clear from the outset that this is a cuts driven proposal and an attack on our terms and conditions
SEPTEMBER The Academies threat September saw a public protest by parents from Arden School against the lack of consultation over the move to make their children’s school an Academy. One of the first acts of the new Government was to rush through an Academies Act which enables State Schools to become fully independent of local authorities and to control their own budgets. Initially limited to outstanding schools three Solihull School’s rushed to become Academies in the autumn, those being Tudor Grange, Arden and St Patricks Junior and Infants. But in their rush the Schools conducted minimal consultation with parents, teachers, and school students over the School summer holiday period. UNISON together with the GMB and the teaching unions organised a well attended public meeting of nd over 100 people on 22 September in the Civic Suite. The meeting passed a motion calling for the date for the Schools to become Academies to be delayed to allow consultation, the motion was forwarded to the Governing bodies of the three schools who chose to ignore the concern. Our concerns about this latest Academies initiative is that the Schools will eventually break from recognising nationally and locally negotiated terms and conditions for our school support staff members. Further they will undermine the infrastructure of centrally provided school support services such as SISS and Education welfare, this will impact on the support non-academy schools are able to draw upon as well as lead to a loss of jobs. We are expecting further School’s to chose to become Academies in the year ahead.
OCTOBER – The spectre haunting Knowle Staff at Knowle Library were shocked when a local Community organisation advertised for volunteers to work at their library. In May 2010 the opening hours of Knowle Library were cut together with those of other local libraries, with the Library closing at 2pm instead of 4pm on a Saturday afternoon. Knowle Society wanted to re-open the Library on Saturday afternoon using volunteers. With the Government’s push for the Big Society and the outsourcing of Library services to Parish Councils in other parts of the country this has been treated as a serious threat by UNISON.
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We have responded by negotiating key principles into the Corporate Volunteer policy to prevent volunteers from being used to cover for cuts in services and to prevent volunteers from being substituted for paid staff. We have also won the argument that volunteers must be recruited and deployed by the Council and not be deployed by a third party.
December There have been and will be job losss st
On 31 December the Steps 2 Opportunities employment project based in North Solihull closed within 9 months of opening. The project worked with the long term unemployed in the north of the Borough to assist them into work . Cuts to Advantage West Midlands funding by the Government have led to the loss of funding to the Solihull Council run project although some workers were successfully redeployed there were redundancies. As a Branch we have sought to publicise the impact on the loss of this service. In addition to outright redundancies UNISON has sought to keep a track of deleted posts and they are now reported to us by Management. What we need is more feedback from members in workplaces about the related workload issues. The deletion of posts and redundancies will be the major challenge for all of us in 2011.
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Building our Branch organisation in 2010 The last year has seen a 4.7% growth in our membership and we would like to welcome our new members as well as thank our Rep’s who are actively recruiting. Our Branch Executive has also grown and has more workplace representatives as well as active Branch Officers. The first point of contact with the Branch office is Liz Dean, Liz is a long standing and now retired member of our Branch. She works four days of the week and among other things she ensures that members enquiries are responded to in a timely way as well as keeping everyone’s diary organised. She is now permanently employed by the Branch. Dave Fuery, our Assistant Branch Secretary, has undertaken full time trade union duties since April 2010. His post has been funded using the Branch reserves and has provided essential extra capacity at a time of increasing pressure, this is an arrangement we need to continue. He has lead responsibilities for Children’s Services, and Solihull Community Housing, and outside of the Council Solihull 6th Form College and Solihull Ice Rink. He is also our Branch Health and Safety Officer and Dave has ensured the Branch is now represented at the Directorate and Corporate Health and Safety Forums. We have a significant membership among School Support staff and during 2010 have increased our efforts to ensure that the Branch more effectively represent our School members. Brian Sheridan has been employed during 2010 to undertake a range of school related projects particularly publicising the proposals for the SSSNB, a proposed new negotiating body for school support staff set up under the previous Government but which is to be abolished by the Con-Dem Government. We should thank all of our Officers and Representatives who have worked hard in increasingly difficult times. In particular we should recognise our Rep’s at Parkwood Leisure, Enterprise and Connaught now Pinnacle who are working in an often hostile environment to defend our members terms and conditions We have tried to improve our communications with you. The Branch now has a website which we keep updated with important information and a Facebook Group. Council members should receive an emonthly update of key information. Developing our communications will be a priority for 2011.
Report from the Library Service Volunteers in Libraries During the last twelve months Unison have been addressing members concerns around the use of volunteers in libraries. Unison welcomes the use of volunteer to add value to services such as the annual children’s Summer Reading Challenge and specific project work in local history. This work has been very specific often time limited and has not substituted for paid work. The emergence of the ‘Big Society’ and cuts nationally in library services has been used as an opportunity for volunteers to run library services. From May 2010 Knowle Library had Saturday afternoon opening cut. A local community group then pressed for the restoration of the cut hours with volunteers from their own group. They advertised for volunteers in a local magazine without the agreement of senior management or informing the staff at Knowle Library. The first staff knew of this development was when a customer bought the advert to their attention. It left members feeling vulnerable and stressed. Unison responded by seeking the finalisation of the Corporate Volunteers Policy which included consultation with the Trade Unions on where volunteers were to be deployed within a service. At a meeting before Christmas it was Unisons understanding that we had jointly agreed with Senior Library Management that it was important not to react to local situations but to reach agreement over a protocol for the deployment of volunteers in the library service. It was agreed the protocol would be discussed at a meeting in the New Year. Senior Library Management reneged on this agreement, meeting with the local volunteer group and offering them the opportunity to open the library and operate a return and loan only service. Volunteers will have sole responsibility for the Library and security of this grade 2 listed building as paid staff duties will cease at 2pm. Unison is concerned at senior management’s lack of consultation and the deployment of volunteers to reinstate a service which was cut because of budget pressures. Unison will continue to pursue this issue and raise the concerns of members. Mobile Library Service under threat Unison members are disappointed in the lack of a consistent decision making process with regards to the mobile library service when it was known 12 months ago, that the current lease expired at the end of February 2011. During 2010 decision making lurched from: April a shared service with Warwickshire. A tendering option by staff Buy the vehicle for 9,000 and continue with the service Extension of the lease first for twelve months and then reduced to six. Back to a shared service with a break in service due to the lease expiring in February 2011. The lease being extended to 26th March 2011 and a shared service with Warwickshire from 1st April. There seems little shared about this service. Warwick will provide vehicles and stock. Computer systems of Solihull and Warwickshire are not compatible. Solihull residents using this service will
have to rejoin. Customers wonâ€™t have the flexibility to return books to any Solihull Library or renew them. Loan period will be reduced from 4 to three weeks. Unison would like to know where is the financial report to Elected Members on a shared service? The Scrutiny Committee noted that Solihull residents felt passionately about the library service. Unison wonders how elected members will respond to their concerns if the service is no longer under their control. Unison members are disappointed they have been allowed so little input into the changes in the service. Repeated requests to senior management for a break down in the costs of the Mobile Homes and Housebound service to understand where they could make the savings were ignored. They would like to understand the break down of the ÂŁ50,000 saving through sharing the mobile and delivery service with Warwickshire as proposed in the report of the Corporate Budget Group December 2010. Members are concerned about their re-deployment it. Any response from senior management has been vague and muddled, compounding the stress they are experiencing. More muddle and confusion! Little did staff in six community libraries know the stress they would experience after opening hours were cut in May 2010. Under the new arrangements they were required to work so many hours at their home site library and the rest elsewhere. Staff were then issued with a separate contract payslip and pension contribution. Resulting in staff having two contracts, two payslips and two pension contributions when they were in the same post doing exactly the same job but at two libraries. Members repeatedly asked why no one had explained the implications of these changes. Consequently in early January members issued senior management with a grievance. Result staff have now reverted to one contract, payslip and pension contribution. UNISON workplace representatives in the Library Service
A report from Solihull Schools Solihull UNISON Branch made concerted, planned and successful efforts in 2010 to raise its profile in schools amongst school support staff. This involved better communications with its members through regular distribution of both local and national newsletters; the building of an effective email network for contacts; increased opportunities for members to raise issues at constituency meetings; to be involved through consultation in developing policies and to join a workshop on job descriptions. The year saw a number of important issues affecting Solihull Schools and school support staff that will remain relevant well into the future and require ongoing branch support and resources for 2011. The School Support Staff Negotiating Body, with its objectives of establishing much needed new and improved national terms and conditions for all school support staff - most of whom are women and all of whom experience low pay - has after 2 years of extensive talks and research into the inadequacies, vagaries and irregularities of their terms and conditions, been scrapped by the Con/Dem Government. Scrapped because it interferes with their intentions to deregulate national terms and conditions and replace them with local which increases the likelihood of declining terms and conditions and job losses for school support staff employed by cash strapped councils and Academy schools eager to increase profits at the expense of staff. This is a major setback but UNISON nationally and locally will continue to petition and campaign for a better deal for school support staff with members given the opportunity to direct the future campaign and through a New Year consultative ballot to decide on options for industrial action, negotiating possibilities and campaign priorities. In the meantime the branch and its activists will encourage and support all school support staff and their colleagues, parents and friends to express concern about the decision to abolish the SSSNB, explain why it is unfair and ask them to sign the petition. In September 2010 a joint Solihull Education Trade Union campaign, which included the organisation of a successful well attended public meeting; the lobbying of local councillors; the distribution of schools newsletters; school meetings and a ballot for the affected staff MPs and press releases, though effective, was unable to prevent 3 Solihull schools (Tudor Grange, Arden and St Patrickâ€™s) becoming Academies and their staff transferring under TUPE with their current terms and conditions intact. 6 other schools in Solihull have expressed an interest in becoming an Academy Heart of England; Langley; Lode Heath; Lyndon; Marston Green J&I & St Peters Catholic. Others, with encouragement from Government and Governors keen to privatise may well follow suit and the branch will need to continue the good work done locally and nationally jointly with other Education UNIONS to challenge and campaign against the Government intention to destroy state run Education and sell it off to private enterprise - through the Academy and Free schools programme. There are in addition a number of important school based policies that impact upon the daily working conditions of school support staff that the branch has repeatedly highlighted in newsletters and sought feedback regarding their implementation and practice as they cause concern nationally. The Administration of Medicines in schools to vulnerable children with a variety of complex health needs is a big responsibility that requires training, support and payment and the concern is that many schools are not implementing this policy effectively with consequences for children and staff.
The Rarely Cover policy was designed to ensure that school support staff - other than Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTA) - are not expected or pressured to provide cover for the planned or unplanned absence of teaching staff. The implementation of performance appraisal in schools, as elsewhere, has under the guise of raising standards created opportunities for managerial prejudice. The role, responsibilities and job description of HLTA,s is a policy that was promoted by Solihull UNISON but like all policies it requires routine scrutiny for its effectiveness. In December 2010 the Government published research evidence of rising assaults on teaching staff in school settings. There were no complaints or calls from our members on this important issue but the branch and its H&S officer continue to promote a safe working environment and culture for school members. Brian Sheridan Solihull UNISON Schools organiser for 2010