UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

In the bleak mid winter of public services

As the Audit Commission and LGA warn of further job losses, it is clear that the emerging picture in public services is one of winners and losers. There is a huge disparity in the volume of job losses facing local government compared to other areas of the public sector. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-16060193

That isn’t to say other public services haven’t suffered job losses. We know that they have. But the sheer scale of cuts in local government has had a catastrophic affect in overall job numbers. Councils now face reducing, if we are to believe the LGA and Audit Commission figures, the wage bill by a further 29%.

I would take issue however with some of the figures cited by the LGA / AC. They cite that the pay bill increased by 22% between 2004-05 and 2009-10 but has fallen recently, by 5.6% between 2008-09 and 2010-11. However this doesn’t reflect the raft of equal pay claims and new pay arrangements implemented following the historic underpayment of women workers through Councils breeching equal pay laws.

They do acknowledge that around 48% of the increase is through a rise in teaching assistants but that in itself tells a tale. If we remove labour costs we will have no choice but to hit these valuable frontline service jobs. Do we want to go back to the bad old days of unworkable staff to children ratios? Do we want to institutionalize children with disabilities or provide them with the one to one support in classrooms, in mainstream schools, that so many teaching assistants help to provide?

We can’t read the LGA / AC report in isolation either. Osborne made a thus far under-reported policy announcement in his Autumn Budget Statement calling for public sector pay to be ‘more responsive to local labour markets’ . This is a clear statement of intent to stop national pay bargaining and to develop market rates as the formula for local pay bargaining – to drive down labour costs or in otherwise the wages of our members.

This will have a devastating impact on wage rates but will also have a gender impact. Women, predominantly in the parent / carer roles are far less able to ‘chase the dollar’ by job hopping to better paid work and will be the direct victims of a downward spiral in wage rates if we move towards market rate pay systems.

By the Chancellors own figures, his moves from RPI to CPI, and threat of an ongoing pay freeze, have the stark effect of reducing the pay of public sector by a staggering 16.5% during the lifetime of Parliament. On top of this workers now face a loss of national pay bargaining and further cuts to pay on top of pension contribution increases. A perfect storm for further industrial action.

There will be hard choices for branches.

New developments in management techniques mean that many employers will be looking ‘matching resources to service need’. This will translate into an impact on overtime as jobs become based on more flexible work patterns with flat pay rates. There will be more requirements to work expanded hours to cover services to ‘sweat assets’ such as fleet and buildings. The screws will be turned on absence figures – sickness costs if jobs are covered due to absence. Perhaps the most severe threat will be that councils will simply choose not to deliver some discretionary services at all concentrating all their efforts on those services they are obliged to provide.

It will be these radical and controversial decisions that drive a reduction of 29% in labour costs. Quite simply there is little fat left to cut. We are now into hacking away the very core of public services.

Anna Rose