Trade union officials have strongly criticised Croydon Council’s plans to axe more than 400 jobs, saying that the on-going review is being rushed through “with little thought” and without proper consultation, and describing the job cuts at the Labour-run local authority as “irresponsible”.
The cuts, the union warns, “have the potential to have a devastating impact on the residents of Croydon at a time when they rely on the services provided by the council most”.
A formal response from Unison was delivered yesterday to Shifa Mustafa, the stand-in council CEO. It was signed by Louise O’Hara, Unison’s London region organiser, and Yvonne Green, the Croydon Unison branch secretary who is known for working closely in the local Labour Party with Tony Newman, the council leader.
O’Hara and Green’s findings, and their survey of Croydon Unison members, are unlikely to be considered helpful to beleaguered Newman’s current plight.
With Croydon in the middle of the pandemic, the council faced a covid-inflicted cashflow crisis on top of £1.5billion debt. In July, Jo Negrini, the then council CEO, set up a financial review to find ways of making 15 per cent cuts across the board.
Unison officials have been meeting with senior council executives twice a week since then, as well as conducting a survey of their members employed by the council, the findings of which are included in their report.
- 82% oppose the proposed redundancies
- 80% believe the proposals will impact the local community
- 68% felt it was too rushed
- 64% stated that the council should wait for more funding
- 56% stated that they thought the proposals would have a disproportionate impact on those with protected characteristics, including BAME and disabled employees
The report says, “UNISON has argued since the consultation started that a staffing review of this scale should not be undertaken at this time…
“The consequences of the staffing review in the current circumstances, with such little thought given to what could happen in the next couple of months both in terms of further funding from the government and a second wave of coronavirus, is irresponsible.
“The staffing review has been carried out as a quick and easy (in terms of administration) way of making savings, rather than council undertaking a thorough review of where efficiencies could be made in a way that limited the impact of staff and residents.
“Loyal and committed staff deserve to have been treated better, at most, by not being put at risk of redundancy and, at least, by being part of a consultation which was fair, transparent and meaningful.
“These cuts have the potential to have a devastating impact on the residents of Croydon at a time when they rely on the services provided by the council most.
“As stated by Unison on a number of occasions, Croydon Council should halt these plans while the case is made for more funding from government, other savings are identified and alternative plans can be considered.”
The six-page Unison report included a litany of complaints from council staff that were gathered as the survey was being collated.
“Frontline staff have not been kept informed of the staffing review and what impact it will have on their work with residents. Some directors have not met with staff. How can staff possibly feel part of the process and that their voice is heard, when they have been starved of information?”
“I believe the pandemic… is being blamed to cover-up for financial mismanagement over a number of years.”
“An effective council is essential in ensuring those most vulnerable are supported especially during these unprecedented and unstable times. The cuts that are proposed disproportionately affect those most in need and will lead to inefficiencies and being unable to respond to the increasing demands.”
“The council could not cope should there be a second coronavirus peak.”
“The [executive leadership team]have not led from the front. There are other examples of leaders taking voluntary pay cuts.”
In the council’s children, families and education department, where children’s services have only just been rated as “Good” after failing an Ofsted inspection in 2017, the Unison report says that, “Concerns were raised about line managers not being involved in the deciding which posts should be at risk of redundancy, meaning that many staff have been unable to get the information needed to understand why their posts have been selected. This has resulted in feelings of suspicion and unfairness from impacted staff…
“Members reported that there was little consideration or understanding of what their day-to-day job actually entailed, meaning the department will struggle once their post has been deleted as plans have not been made for that work.
“Members are concerned that cuts will jeopardise the hard work and improvement that has taken place to bring children’s services to Ofsted ‘Good’. The country is about to have an economic recession and levels of deprivation will likely increase, so will the number of children ‘at risk’. Reducing capacity through this reduction in staffing has the potential to overwhelm the service.”
One of the problems faced by Croydon and its social work departments has been in the and retention of experienced and capable staff. At least £25million was pumped into children’s services after the Ofsted failure, much of it used on a recruitment drive, which included a visit to South Africa.
But according to one staffer in the department, “The poor management of funds through the excessive use of consultants and costly recruitment drives (including the South Africa trip) means that efficiencies could have been made months ago which would have prevented the need for these redundancies.”
The cuts affect all the council’s departments, with some already considering making cut-backs of 20 per cent, rather than the original 15 per cent cuts target.
In the adults and health department, according to the Unison report, “Members are angry and upset at the lack of transparency and the unfair way that posts have been selected for redundancy. Staff who worked over and above during the emergency feel that they have been abandoned by the council…
“Unison has serious concerns about the impact the cuts to the enablement team are likely to have on disabled residents in Croydon. This will [make] it much more difficult for disabled residents to be independent and some will be left without services. This will result in more residents needing crisis-based services at a much higher cost to the council.”
According to one member of council staff, “These plans are both an attack on the workforce and the local community. The pandemic has shown the need for properly funded social care provision. For all the rhetoric from the employers on how much they value the work we do, a reduction in staff during a likely second wave could have devastating effects.”
Included in those “devastating effects”, some predict that staff who are made redundant from the council might soon find themselves vulnerable and even homeless, and in need of the very council services which they had been helping to provide until their job was axed.
Staff in other departments raised concerns about the money being spent by the council on expensive consultants, a long-term and continuing issue at Croydon.
“The staff redeployment job list is a joke,” one union member told Unison.
Unison say that they are especially concerned about “the serious disproportionate impact the staffing review has on BAME and disabled staff”.
They also say that the cuts are “having a disproportionate impact on those on lower grades”.
One member from the resources department commented in the Unison survey that, “I think the staff review is just lip service. They have already made their minds up about which jobs are going. They say ‘at risk’, but for people like me it’s not at risk, it’s a done deal and nothing I can say will change it.”
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