A UNION has criticised proposed job cuts and the impact on public services in South Gloucestershire Council’s annual budget.

Less money for libraries, One Stop Shops, mentoring for children and adults in need, and some support to schools would result in a large number of redundancies and poorer services that many residents currently relied on as a “lifeline”, councillors were told.

The cost of severance payments for the authority’s workforce is expected to rise by £500,000, with the extra money coming from reserves, as a number of posts are to be scrapped and some teams restructured.

The council is cutting £641,000 a year from its trading arm Integra by “rationalising” some of the services it provides, such as to schools, £473,000 from libraries by reviewing opening hours while promising not to shut branches and £79,000 from its contact centre and One Stop Shops, again by cutting hours that are less busy.

Unison South Gloucestershire branch secretary Dan Smart told the scrutiny commission: “Unison members are highly concerned about the impacts of cuts to public services.

“All cuts to public services have a huge impact on our communities and this is only getting worse and worse as the cumulative effects of austerity eats into our vital services.

“The ‘easy savings’ have now been made and we are now moving towards ending or privatising everything but statutory provision.

“Libraries are facing a huge £500,000 in savings which will likely result in job losses, cuts to working hours and opening times.

“HR services for schools will cease, cementing failed academisation of schools and result in a large number of jobs ending.

“'Breakthrough mentoring’ services are to be effectively privatised which creates a race to the bottom for staff pay, terms and conditions in social care as well as poorer quality of service.

“One Stop Shops’ opening hours are also being reduced which will affect public access to lifeline services such as housing and financial advice, therefore also increasing pressure on staff who are already facing threats at work as societal issues boil over.”

Gazette Series: Unison South Gloucestershire branch secretary Dan Smart speaking at the council's scrutiny commission on Wednesday, January 3Unison South Gloucestershire branch secretary Dan Smart speaking at the council's scrutiny commission on Wednesday, January 3 (Image: South Gloucestershire Council)

He said the union recognised the huge financial pressures facing the authority after years of under-funding from government but that the Lib Dem-Labour coalition could not simply sit back and accept the situation passed on from Conservatives in both Whitehall and the council’s previous Tory administration.

Mr Smart said: “We have already had some discussions with councillors and have been assured actions are being taken to mitigate the impact of cuts but we want to ensure this is absolutely the case.

“The council has an urgent responsibility to meet the needs of residents and staff.

“We face a dire situation in society with huge numbers going to food banks, struggling to access housing, going without vital social care needs being met and enduring horrendous levels of poverty.

“So we urge the council today to take every measure possible to avoid making these cuts and any other savings that negatively affect our members.”

He said alternative sources of funding, such as “unnecessary spending on managerial positions”, should be redirected towards vital services such as libraries and social care.

Gazette Series: South Gloucestershire Council offices - photo by Doug Fowler South Gloucestershire Council offices - photo by Doug Fowler (Image: Doug Fowler)

Council issues response to union concerns

South Gloucestershire Council co-leader Cllr Ian Boulton (Labour, Staple Hill & Mangotsfield) told the meeting on Wednesday, January 31, that no more cuts were proposed in the budget following those agreed last year under Conservative control.

In a joint statement after the meeting, Cllr Boulton and council leader Cllr Claire Young (Lib Dem, Frampton Cotterell) said: “We welcome Unison saying they recognise that councils are dealing with huge financial pressures after years of under-funding from the Conservative government.

“While it may seem contradictory to say we should not accept it, we understand the sentiment behind what they said and as a new administration we are actively campaigning for better funding for local government in order to protect the services we all value and provide the working environment our staff deserve.

“We trust that our unions will want to work with us in support of these aims because, unless there is a change, we will continue to face the awful decisions the current funding arrangements force on us all.”