Unions slam council over job cuts

Unions have delivered a stinging attack on Southend Council over plans to “strip” support staff from key departments in a shake-up described as a “shambles”.

Unison and the GMB have called on the council to halt its consultation over the restructure.

When announced earlier this year it was proposed 29 full time posts would be created while 38 would be “deleted” – a net loss of nine jobs but the result of the consultation hasn’t been shared with staff yet.

The unions insist they have been given “only minimal information” on the jobs the staff will be required to do and the future of services in the face of a “massive cut in resources”.

Existing job descriptions have been scrapped and people will be selected for redundancy following “values and behaviours” interviews.

Claire Wormald, Branch Secretary of Unison said: “In 20 years of dealing with restructures at Southend I have never seen such a shambles. The council know there is little fat to be got rid of as years of cuts have already left staff and services overstretched.

“The plans strip support staff from teams across the council from social care placements and child protection, to licensing and public transport. They ignore the specialism and experience of this workforce and they fail to show how services can be maintained.”

Ms Wormald added: “Some staff will lose their jobs. Those who are left face higher workloads and the prospect of seeing the services they are dedicated to undermined. We are told process has been going on for eighteen months but there is no plan, no detail and no understanding of the work we do now. What on earth have they spent the time doing?

“We’ve got no option but to call for a halt. Management should swallow their pride and admit that they need to stop and rethink their proposals in the interests of staff and the community.

“The council is full of talk about the future, but it looks like a future of worse services, fewer jobs and a demoralised, devalued workforce.”

It was recently reported how a whistleblower on the council’s museum service team feared staffing cuts would mean a bleak future for the service, particularly educational visits by school children and historic events.

Jean Taberner, Branch secretary of the GMB said: “ This is a disgraceful attempt to force through changes without following the usual processes, to downgrade posts and make dangerous cuts to services, which are already stretched. To lose a quarter of the business support staff will undoubtedly have a major effect on the efficiency of day to day running of services and ultimately impact on the community.

Cllr Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, said: “We have been engaging with unions and staff throughout this process, a process that has been extended to allow time for more consultation, and ideas and suggestions to be considered as part of revised proposals.

“Our HR policies and procedures have been and continue to be followed throughout this process, and we are therefore disappointed by the comments made by unions which we do not believe fairly reflect the level of engagement and involvement with them throughout this process.

“We do recognise this process has been difficult for all staff involved, and want to resolve any remaining concerns as soon as possible. We are now reviewing staff feedback and will soon be responding to all involved.

“In general wherever there are areas for staff savings, we always firstly target vacant posts, interim arrangements, agency cover and fixed term contracts and every effort will be made to avoid compulsory redundancies, and as per our policies we will work to ensure that any staff identified at risk from the proposed staffing restructures can be redeployed where appropriate.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter