Council budget 2021: our deputation

Normally, we would give our deputation as part of the Council’s budget meeting—taking place today—but due to the temporary standing orders ruling that deputations can only be submitted in writing, we can’t do that this year. Read on for our full deputation, or watch the video for a summary.

Join us on Twitter for discussion of the budget at @unitececbranch.

Unite CEC Branch’s deputation to Full Council on 18 February 2021

Unite CEC Branch would like to preface this deputation with an objection to the temporary rules that dictate that deputations can only be submitted in writing. The Council has used technology to overcome many challenges this year and we believe digital participation in Council committees from groups submitting deputations is not insurmountable and that barring active participation is contrary to the principle of democracy that the voices of citizens and workers can be heard as part of these proceedings.

The Council has faced unimaginable challenges over the past year. In many areas across, we have been pleased to see a considerate approach toward staff and a strong commitment from leaders to working together with trade unions. In many situations there has been a recognition that the best way to understand and overcome the problems encountered by the workforce is through consultation, co-operation and listening to frontline staff that are facing the—often perilous—situation head-on.

However, on too many occasions, Council decisions and communications have fallen short, placing undue stress on an already beleaguered workforce that is putting in superhuman effort to provide the vital services our citizens need. Over the festive period, there were been incidents with refuse collection workers, school cleaners and early years workers that led to groups of staff who have gone the extra mile over the last year feeling aggrieved. These, and similar, could have been avoided with clear communication and timely engagement with trade unions.

Failing to communicate and make considered decisions have put other workers in detriment, whether that is the failure to inform Facilities Management staff in schools of the school health and safety groups created to respond to concerns around coronavirus or the issues with school staffing and pupil numbers the second lockdown, with some schools with disproportionately high number of staff for the number of pupils—many risking journeys on public transport to come in to find no essential work to be done.

Council leaders have spoken highly of the work carried out over the past year and it is worth repeating again that, throughout the pandemic, under ever changing circumstances and rules, our frontline local authority workers have:

  • ensured our city’s streets and greenspaces are clean and maintained;
  • cleaned and maintained schools, protecting pupils and staff from infection;
  • collected citizens’ waste and recycling;
  • repaired and maintained social housing;
  • cared for and supported our most vulnerable citizens;
  • protected our communities;
  • equipped and adapted the homes of citizens that need it;
  • provided communities with learning opportunities;
  • supported pupils in their learning and provided care
  • and many more essential services carried out.

This is while other groups of staff have converted dining tables to offices, learned new ways of working and upskilled to use new technologies to ensure that citizens can get in touch with the Council, our digital services can respond to increased demand and all of our administrative tasks are handled without pause.

Our workers have been flexible and tenacious and shown immense public spirit throughout these hard times. Words cannot express the work done by our local authority workers— and therein lies the issue. Too often, public service workers have been paid in only lip service—if words and claps were wages, our Council worker philanthropists couldn’t fit their purses into the pockets of their ragged trousers.

While this budget acknowledges the Scottish Joint Council’s pay proposal for this year it only accounts for an award of 3%. Furthermore, the consolidation of the Scottish Local Government Living Wage offers an opportunity to show the providers of our essential services just how valued they are and must be used as such. The recent Scottish Government announcement of a £500 reward to many public sector workers was welcomed by all but questioned in the context of why only certain workers would receive this gratitude from the Scottish Government. Our council workers are beginning to feel that the goodwill they have shown throughout the pandemic is not being reciprocated even in the smallest of gestures.

The spirit of public sector workers has helped cut through the challenges of this crisis, but as with the edge of a blade, with continued cutting, spirits too can dull. The strain on all of our people has been massive and increased absence due to stress and mental health issues—now accounting for 48% of long-term absence—is not being adequately addressed. This is a pressure that increases exponentially—and with the knock-on impact of staff absence, stress can rip through a workforce like a virus. The business plan discusses the principle of spend to save: the Council needs to look at the impact of staffing cuts and recognise that staff are the most important resource in the Council, thus worth investing in.

Our branch believes that the people who deliver our local government services in Edinburgh are beginning to crack. Situations that might normally be sorted reasonably, or not even occur, are being exacerbated by the strain of increased workloads and lack of a voice. Even the smallest error in judgement risks being inflated out of proportion, putting decision makers under even greater strain. Fair Work is an important part of the recent Edinburgh Poverty Commission recommendations and ‘effective voice ’is fundamental to this. As this budget recognises and responds to the extraordinary pressures facing local authorities at this time, we offer a suggestion that costs little yet pays dividends: consult and communicate with the workforce.

Timely and considerate communications with staff can reduce stress, improve morale and empower staff by feeling their contribution is meaningful and their concerns will be addressed. The Council’s business plan acknowledges the value of empowering citizens; we must recognise the value of empowering staff and working together to improve our public services, as per the business plan’s aspirations. Empowering doesn’t only mean allowing them a voice. Improving our services means investing in those that deliver them. The Council must award staff for the essential work that they do and protect staff, as the business plan sets out to do for citizens, from poverty and unemployment. These are our essential workers—let’s treat them as such.

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