Draft Budget Response
1.1 Unison Fife Branch welcomes the administration’s decision to consult as widely as possible on their budget proposals. We recognise that the level of transparency in this process is unprecedented and clearly shows maturity and commitment to seek views as widely as possible.
1.2 Unison Fife have over a number of years made alternative suggestions to Fife Council on the final budget proposals in areas where our members believe that savings can be generated. Whilst these have not always been taken on board, it is welcomed to see that in the longer term some of our suggestions being taken forward. An example of this is the integration of Children’s Service with Education.
1.3 We recognise that the budget proposals presented are part of a package of measures which will enable savings of almost £100 Million over the next four years. These cuts have been forced upon us through the UK government’s austerity measures and leave local authorities across the country with little choice other than that to propose savings which conflicts with our unions aims and values.
1.4 UNISON Fife believe that the budget gap is only compounded further by the Scottish Governments insistence on retaining a policy which results in a real terms loss of income for all Councils. The Council Tax freeze may be a popular policy for some, however in reality it results in a loss of income for local councils. The support provided by the Scottish Government for Councils who implement the freeze does not meet the loss of income. Unison Scotland’s research shows that most of the population would prefer an increase in council tax if it allows for greater public service, indeed allows for the retention of these services.
1.5 We welcome the areas of investment that the budget proposals offer out communities, for example early intervention for children and young people, greater access to apprenticeships, protection for the most vulnerable groups in society as well as recognising that investing in facilities will have a direct benefit for communities (community use schools). It is vital though that where these investments are being proposed that proper scrutiny is placed upon their implementation.
1.6 One area we would like to see strengthened is the approach to the budget setting process and the interaction between directorates. In our opinion services act in isolation without perhaps a comprehensive understanding of the impact a decision made by one service has on another service. This is evident within the Catering, Cleaning and Facilities management areas of our business and has led to our lowest paid members suffering significant cuts to their contracts in previous years. Some of our members have suffered a year on year reduction to their hours ultimately meaning that there will be both short and long term implications for earnings/pensions etc.
1.7 We continue to be extremely concerned that Social Work consistently fails to manage the services they provide within budget, and a high overspend has occurred yet again. As a result no savings have been identified in the draft budget. We are concerned that other services will be asked to identify significant additional savings to offset the deficit in this area.
1.8 We understand that the reactionary nature of this Service can result in overspends in its budget, however the additional added burden placed upon other Directorates will have an equally devastating impact on the services delivered in our communities and on those employees who provide them.
1.9 We believe that the Council should revisit the decision taken which seems to provide immunity to the Social Work budget and ensure that all Services are supported consistently to help grow and sustain communities. Areas such as Housing & Neighbourhoods, Street Cleansing, Transportation, Leisure & Culture and Corporate Services create and provide direct front line Services which will clearly suffer as a consequence of this particular proposal.
1.10 We do not wish to see the Services provided by Social Work suffer and certainly believe that our members deliver services which go above and beyond job expectations despite continual pressure on them. UNISON welcomes the approach taken by the Administration to look at this budget area through a priority based budget exercise. Our concern is that the outcome, of what appears to be poor financial management, is that we will lose vital, good quality services which have been built up over many years. UNISON Fife members appreciate that there are many difficult decisions to be made with regards to the Social Work overspend and we believe some very serious questions need to be asked and answered.
- Why has the Social Work budget been overspent year on year
- Why does there appear to have been no attempt made to address the rise in trends for services
- What part has the Senior Management team played in ensuring that the budget demands are reflected in the budget priorities / pressures they have
1.11 We believe it would be a good message to send to staff to scrutinise senior management responsible for delivering social work services. Our members feel so strongly that they have asked me to request the administration call for an inquiry or audit of the senior managers action, we are happy to discuss this with the Leader and Depute. We do realise the seriousness of this request but I hope that you can recognise the frustrations and concerns our members have in this area. Our members at the frontline have had to look at reductions in numbers, loss of hours and previously the potential privatisation of some services whilst they see those responsible for “ managing “ services and budget keep their jobs with little to no consequences.
1.12 An area where proper action is immediately needed is within Home Care. Once the benchmark for care services across Scotland and the UK, the continual review after review is having a devastating impact on our members confidence and morale. The most recent review, which was due to conclude on 22nd December 2013 was ‘pulled’ at the last minute to be reviewed yet again. This indicates to our members that there is no clear strategic direction for taking this service forward. To the extent that our members believe and have openly suggested that the intention is to simply outsource. This cannot be allowed to continue.
1.13 UNISON Fife are also concerned with the increased approach in the use of arms length organisations to provide our Services. It is our view that these areas of public services can provide greater opportunities for internal growth. There is little evidence to show that through the creation of this type of organisation that public services improve. In areas where the Council wish to explore an alternative delivery model UNISON would expect our members Terms and Conditions protected along with all relevant policies and procedures.
1.14 It is our view that the front line services provided by Fife Council should be supported and commend the proposal as a clear indicator of the administrations commitment to that purpose. However, we also must recognise that front line services need proper infrastructures to support them. We hope that the outcome of the review into “ back office “ functions will not be undertaken as a slash and burn exercise but that the review recognises that frontline services need a proper infrastructure to enable them to continue delivering high quality services to the public.
1.15 Our members are the Council’s greatest asset and as such they should be supported in every possible way to allow them to serve the communities they work in.
1.16 UNISON Fife welcomes the inclusive nature of the budget consultation, we are committed to working with the administration with our shared vision of creating communities who are self-reliant and sustainable through the provision of public services that are properly funded and delivered by directly accountable public bodies.