LABOUR PARTY ACCUSES TORIES OF LEVELLING DOWN WILTSHIRE – 12th February 2022
Wiltshire Council is facing yet another year of budget cuts, due to the Tory government’s tax rises and their cuts to the local government funding.
Tory-led Wiltshire Council’s solution to their own government’s action is to make local citizens pay more for less and dramatically cut the pay of directly employed staff working in sectors such as social care, children’s services and leisure, while funding increases to outsourced private contractors.
The Budget for 2022/23, due to be presented to the Council for approval on 15th February, proposes an increase in Council Tax of 2.99%, just short of the 3% cap and adding £47.56 to a Band D Council Tax bill.
However, the £12.9M of revenue this is expected to raise won’t even cover the £13.6M required to fund contractual increases to the Council’s out-sourced contracts. Factoring in other inflationary pressures like the increase in employer’s National Insurance contributions from 1st April and further cuts to central government funding, Wiltshire is left with a Budget Shortfall of £24M.
Wiltshire Council is planning to plug this £24M gap by drastic cuts to staffing and services. Staffing cuts will include scrapping or not filling vacant posts and degrading the employment terms and conditions of key workers, including withdrawing long-established allowances for unsocial hours, overtime, standby and out-of-hours call-outs.
Council staff feel dismayed by the plans. One social care worker explained:
“I cannot believe that Wiltshire Council is doing this. We work so hard, especially during the pandemic, and this feels like a real kick in the teeth. If it goes ahead, I will lose £300 per month which will just make the job impossible. The money pays for food for me and my son. It’s not for a holiday! It just feels like an insult to my dedication.”
Wiltshire Unison Branch Secretary, Mike Osment, is really concerned:
“Social workers and carers are our unsung heroes, doing difficult jobs supporting vulnerable and older residents in their homes. Their work prevents more cost to the taxpayer by keeping people out of hospital and protecting mental and physical wellbeing. The timing of this is awful: the 1st April will see a perfect storm of financial pressure on families, with increases to energy bills, National Insurance and council tax, as well as inflation predicted by the Bank of England to reach over 7%. We are really worried that people just won’t be able to afford to carry on in their jobs and vacancies will be left unfilled, leaving gaps in vital services.
Labour Group Leader, Cllr Ricky Rogers is alarmed by the proposals:
“These cuts to staffing and services will hit hard people who depend on support from Wiltshire Council. We worry about the impact of these cuts in our communities. We will be scrutinising every proposal and will expect to see each one to be supported by a full assessment of the risk to people with disabilities, the elderly and the vulnerable.”
Cllr Rogers believes that this funding crisis is ultimately driven by cuts from Central Government:
“The Wiltshire Council Budget proposals for 2022/23 are the reality of a grim decade of Tory cuts to local government funding. Out-sourcing services to the private sector has not helped – it’s shocking that this year’s council tax increase will be swallowed up in its entirety by inflation uplifts to out-sourced contracts, whilst hard-working Council staff face cuts to their pay and conditions.
“Each year we see cuts to funding from Central Government, but at the same time they retain £91.5M of Wiltshire’s locally raised business rates. We’ve heard a lot about Boris Johnson’s “levelling up” agenda – what we are seeing in Tory controlled Wiltshire is levelling down.”
Gazette and Herald 22.2.2022
A decision to cut out-of-hours pay for Wiltshire's social workers has been paused, following uproar from employees and their trade unions.
A working group will now be set-up to discuss the proposed changes to unsocial hours, standby and call out policies.
When the work of that group is concluded the unions will commence further consultation with their members on those specific policies.
The changes included a proposed increment freeze, plus some changes to the overtime, standby, callout and unsocial hours policies.
The council was looking to make £10.1m in staffing savings over the next two years.
A majority of these savings would be made through the management of vacancies and recruitment but around £2.1m would come from the proposed savings from existing staff terms and conditions.
The council has been consulting with the three trade unions, UNISON, Unite the Union and GMB, in an attempt to reach an agreement on changes.
In a statement, Wiltshire Council said: "Following feedback from staff and consultation with the trade unions, the council has agreed to separate the proposed increment freeze and changes to the overtime policy from the standby, callout and unsocial hours’ proposals.
"As a result, the trade unions have agreed to commence further consultation on the on the increment freeze and changes to the overtime policy.
"This means that consultation on the other proposals has paused. This has been agreed with the trade unions who have committed to now work as part of a working group with senior council representatives to identify ways in which the impact of the proposed changes to standby, callout and unsocial hours payment can be reduced, while still ensuring the polices are fair and can be applied consistently so they can better support the way the council works to deliver services to its communities.
"Once this is concluded the trade unions will commence further consultation on proposed changes to these policies."
Terence Herbert, chief executive of Wiltshire Council, added: “We hugely value and respect our staff, and throughout the process of putting together proposals on changes to terms and conditions, we have stressed the utmost importance on ensuring all feedback is listened to and considered.
"We recognise this a challenging time and there is no easy solution to making budget savings. However, we need to standardise policies and ensure they are applied in an appropriate and consistent way that supports the delivery of services across the council.
"We also have to deliver savings outlined in the recently agreed budget by improving the efficiency of these policies. Ultimately we are taking steps to avoid redundancies and protect employment as far as possible and this is a commitment I made to the trade unions and staff."