As Birmingham reels after the
discovery of the tenth child – a two year old from Harborne – to die from
neglect in the city in under four years, the Tory/Liberal run City Council has
announced its main target for cutbacks – the council’s Children, Young People
and Families Service. Birmingham, the
largest local authority in the UK, has a £26 million deficit and aims to slash
over 2,000 jobs from Social Services: 1300 jobs from the Children, Young People
and Families Service and 305 jobs from Adult and Community Services. There’s
another 200 jobs to go from Home Care and Neighbourhood Offices, and a further
150 from leisure departments. This
comes on top of the closures that have already taken place of Elderly Persons
Homes and day centres provided by the Learning Disability Service, and Single
Status which saw many have their wages slashed throughout the authority.
The most nauseating spectacle of the current
situation is the Director of Social Services carrying out a ‘road show’ to
staff, to explain the ‘new direction’ service delivery will take in Birmingham.
The road show is called the ’Focused Consultation Workshop’ – given the vast
majority of the workforce oppose the proposals, we shall see how genuine this
’consultation’ really is. Indeed, the management’s rallying cry up there on the
Powerpoint presentation is actually ‘More for More for Less!’ Another example
of managements knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
The new direction has nothing to do with
massive cutbacks of course – rather, its all about ‘empowering’
service users under the new ‘personalisation’ strategy. The way forward we are
told, is that service users must be given their own personal budgets, so they
can decide what services they wish to buy in. Those of us on the front line
know full well that the last thing vulnerable, incapacitated and stressed
service users, or their carers, want is to suddenly have to acquire accountancy
and business skills to work out their own service provision. They just want
help and support from a professional service.
‘Personalisation’ is a cynical ploy by the City Council management to
get around their duty to provide a statutory service. With the bewildered
service user as the individual budget holder, management know full well many
will disappear into a black hole and off the books, while they will be able to
justify cutting units and departments if their services are not ‘bought’ by the
The City Council Tory
leadership are also playing to the media and proudly boasting that they are
‘cutting bureaucracy’. Social Services management say they want to cut the 14
levels of management in the department to just ‘six levels of management
between the client and the Head of Services’, all in order to ‘protect
frontline staff’. But it is frontline
staff who have been receiving trawl letters for voluntary redundancy – the
Assistant Managers in Social Work Teams and Home Care Team Managers; given
management does’nt consider these colleagues frontline workers, its
demonstrates they haven’t a clue about what goes on at the coal face. The Government issued an Improvement Order
on Birmingham after the Clark Inquiry into child social care in Birmingham six
months ago. There was much hand wringing and promises to improve from Tory
councillors and management when the media spotlight was on them. But the deaths of children – two in one week
in February – shows what hollow promises they were. Children’s services are
collapsing in Birmingham – the city’s 500 child social workers, covering a
population of one and a half million in some of the most deprived areas in the
UK, cannot hope to cope with work levels – on any one day 100 of them are off work
with stress related illnesses. Now the council are adding to the burden with
massive cutbacks – so much for the promises made after the Clark Inquiry.
The UNISON lobby of the City Council on 23
February, joined by Dave Prentis, was a good start. But the national leadership
needs to be doing more to co-ordinate protests, lobbies and demonstrations by
all local authority workers, as we are all in the same boat – as I sit and
write this it has just been announced that Nottinghamshire County Council is to
axe 1,000 jobs. We are all in this together, and should not allow individual
local authority managements to pick us off piecemeal. In particular, we must use the links with
Labour to put pressure on the Labour leadership to make the defence of public
services a key issue in the coming election.
At UNISON conference our leaders spoke of “a million voices for change”.
That change can only come if those million voices are organised, and the
national leadership must start that organising now, before it is too late.