Hundreds of council jobs are at risk as borough bosses prepare for the next round of austerity cuts.
Letters will be sent out to hundreds of Gateshead Council workers next Thursday as the authority slashes £25m from its budget over the next 12 months.
A specialist home support team could be axed under the proposals, while cleaning services at some council-run buildings are expected to be reduced.
Union leaders say private companies might now be brought in to complete tasks that used to be carried out by in-house staff.
More than 650 people are currently employed within the affected departments, according to the council.
Hundreds of staff have already had a verbal briefing, with letters due to be posted home to workers on October 30.
The council has said it does not know final numbers at this stage, however the unions expect several hundred jobs to be under review.
Unison expects jobs to be axed from the council’s library, leisure and housing services, as well as its support provision for older people.
However this could change as the council prepares its draft budget proposals. More details will be heard at the council’s cabinet meeting on November 4.
Dave Smith, branch secretary for Gateshead’s Unison branch, said for some of his members this was the third year in a row they had been told their job is at risk by being sent what’s known as an ‘188 at risk’ letter.
“This is the first time the home support service has been looked at because that’s part of services for vulnerable people.
“It’s just a treadmill, it’s cut after cut after cut. For some people they have had three ‘at risk’ letters over the past three years.
“How do you plan anything? If you’re at risk on a 188 letter, that affects your mortgage as you’ve got to declare it. This has a huge impact on people’s lives.
“Christmas will be cancelled yet again.”
However he said there was always a big difference between the number of people getting letters of being ‘at risk’ and those who will eventually lose their jobs through compulsory redundancy.
One worker, who works within the home support service, said:
“This service is needed. I don’t understand how people can just come in and take it away.
“It’s absolutely shocking. It could happen as soon as January and once we get Christmas out of the way that will be it.”
In 2012 the council scrapped 1,000 jobs, however the announcement for 2015-16 is expected to be considerably less.
A spokesperson for Gateshead Council said:
“Due to reductions in Government funding, Gateshead Council has an estimated funding gap of £46m over the next two years.
“We are in the process of drafting proposals that will be put forward to Cabinet on Tuesday, November 4, to consider beginning formal consultation on the draft proposals.
“However, no decisions will be made until our budget is agreed at the end of February 2015. When we are facing funding pressures of this scale, it is highly likely that a number of employees will be directly affected by the draft proposals.
“Where this is the case, every effort will be made to limit the number of compulsory redundancies.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Oct 2014
A Sunderland city councillor who claimed more than £26,000 in expenses in two years has resigned.
Labour representative Neville Padgett suddenly stepped down from his Washington East seat just five months after he was re-elected in May.
Earlier this year, there were calls for 68-year-old Mr Padgett to resign when figures showed he was claiming £1,250 per month on top of his annual £8,369 basic allowance – more than he would receive if he were in a minimum wage job.
It’s understood that Mr Padgett attended a meeting of Sunderland City Council’s standards board on Friday, although council bosses would not confirm this .
Council chief executive Dave Smith said in a statement:
“The city council can confirm a notice of resignation has been received from Coun Neville Padgett. A notice of vacancy in the Washington East ward will be published in due course.”
Mr Padgett hit the headlines in March when the 2012/13 expenses were published. He was found to have claimed £11,000 – almost a third of the £34,000 total claimed by all 75 councillors.
The expenses included food, refreshments, and mileage claims. At the time, he justified the latter by claiming to spend one day a week driving around every street in his ward to check on litter problems.
Then figures released in April showed that in 2013/14, he had claimed even more – just over £15,000 – to supplement his basic allowance.
A month later, voters in Washington East re-elected him for another term in a landslide victory. Tory opposition leader Lee Martin, who has led calls for Mr Padgett to step down, has now asked the council to investigate.
Coun Martin said he plans to table a question for the November meeting of the full council in order that any findings of the standards board are made public. He said:
“I have asked for the council to investigate whether there was any wrongdoing. I believe his resignation is linked to his expenses.
“I’m still waiting for the council to confirm that they completed the review I asked for to ensure his expenses were legitimate. It is in the public interest to know it has been done properly.”
Mr Padgett’s former Labour colleague and Washington South councillor Graeme Miller said:
“This is a standards board issue. I don’t know what their report said. I don’t know what the outcome is going to be. He has resigned before the end of the process. Whatever happened on Friday is between Neville and the members of the standards board.”
Council leader Paul Watson said Mr Padgett’s resignation letter cited health grounds and that he needed more time to care for his wife.
“The electorate returned him with a greater majority and there is no better test than the local community making the verdict,” Coun Watson added.
Dave Smith said:
“Concerns were raised earlier this year about re-examining certain councillor expenses claims. These are audited on a risk assessed basis and any issues are raised with individuals in line with the Code of Conduct that all councillors sign.
“Because of the code and its procedures, it would be inappropriate to advise other councillors of an audit conclusion or for the council to make any further comment.”
A spokesman for Labour North said:
“Neville Padgett has not resigned from the Labour Party, but we do understand he has resigned as a councillor on Sunderland City Council.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 17 Oct 2014
Library staff are shouldering the burden of helping job seekers and benefit claimants deal with new welfare demands, a council leader has claimed.
Staff in Gateshead libraries are allegedly spending hours helping people to carry out job searches and fill in the online forms they are now required to complete by the Jobcentre Plus.
Today leader of Gateshead Council, Mick Henry, is asking his fellow authority leaders across the North East to unite in lobbying Government to demand payment for the work they’re doing to help people cope with the digital changes to the welfare system.
“It’s possible the job shop isn’t involving itself to the level of job search. Maybe the Government needs to think about paying us for that,” said Coun Henry.
“The libraries are there to provide a service to Gateshead residents. We aren’t complaining about that but we do think that maybe if our budgets are being severely cut then perhaps there is an argument that we are getting to be good at [helping with online tasks] and we have the facilities but perhaps not the resources to fund it.”
Changes to the welfare system mean that more people are now required to carry out and record their online job searches and fill in forms to process welfare payments over the Internet.
However, with Gateshead the 47th worst borough in the UK for digital skills, Coun Henry said the assumption that most people now have laptops and smart phones is misguided.
He said there was a growing sense Gateshead’s libraries and staff are being used to carry out functions the Job Centre Plus should be assisting with.
“It’s very easy to think that everybody has a computer but that is just not the case. We are finding that more and more people are actually using the library service to access job searches from what the statistics are showing us,” said Coun Henry.
“If we are trying to address what future needs might be and if there’s evidence that job search has a lot to do with that, then we would like to make sure that other Government agencies that are meant to be primarily involved with job search are doing it properly and working with us.”
Speaking at a meeting of Gateshead Council’s cabinet yesterday morning, councillor for Bensham, Catherine Donovan, said:
“We couldn’t have imagined how the focus of libraries has changed. People are very easily having their benefits sanctioned and the excuse that you couldn’t get to a computer doesn’t wash.
“We do need to be challenging the Jobcentre Plus on the amount of hours our staff are putting in to help these people.”
Unison branch secretary Dave Smith said the roll out of the Universal Credit trial in Manchester had led to people flooding to libraries to use computers and the situation in Gateshead was following the same trend.
He said: “Around 45,000 people used libraries in Gateshead last year and we know that people using it for ICT has increased. Libraries are being flooded by people on Jobseekers Allowance as they have got to upload CVs.
“Gateshead is the 47th digitally excluded neighbourhood in the country and libraries are key. Gateshead is investing in broadband but even if you have broadband there is a lack of skills and confidence. There is a huge amount of work and support needed to get people to use that connectivity as it comes to their houses.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 Oct 2014
Sunderland could grind to a halt tomorrow as thousands of local government workers go on strike.
Members of unions including Public and Commercial Services (PCS), Unison, GMB, National Union of Teachers (NUT), Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and Unite will walk out nationally.
Although it is not clear how many employees will take part, Sunderland City Council has warned the action was likely to affect most of its services, with many council buildings closed.
Most schools in Sunderland will shut, although some will remain open and others will partially open for some year groups. Some children’s centres will be closed.
All customer service centres will be closed along with libraries, with the exception of the City Library.
All leisure centres and wellness facilities, including Sunderland Aquatic Centre, will also be closed – though the Raich Carter Sport Centre will remain open. All museums will be closed.
Bin collections will be hit, while Beach Street household waste and recycling centre will be closed. The industrial action also means that there will be no cremations or burials on the day.
“We have to make the point that this is not just about pay, but the future of the services that our members provide,” Unison’s Sunderland organiser Helen Metcalf .
“One per cent is a cut in real terms of 20 per cent since the coalition government came to power, and that would see almost 90 per cent of our school and local government workers receive a further pay cut, rather than a pay award.
“The chancellor committed that everyone earning under £21,000 would receive and extra £250, but this has never been paid.”
She added: “We don’t take strike action like this lightly, but people coming out when they are already suffering, shows just how strong the feeling is, that people just can’t afford to live on this anymore.”
Chief executive Dave Smith said: “This is a national dispute affecting public services across the country. And although it’s not entirely clear at this stage how many employees will take part in the industrial action, we are anticipating widespread disruption to council services and we have planned ahead on that basis.
“We will be doing everything we can to protect the most vulnerable members of the community and ensure that services to them are maintained. We ask members of the public to bear with us during this time and we apologise for any disturbance to normal services resulting from this national dispute.”
Durham County Council says that although it has taken steps to minimise the impact on emergency and essential services, most council buildings will be closed to the public.
An up-to-date list is available at http://www.durham.gov.uk/schoolclosures. There will be no waste collections, but household waste recycling centres will open as normal.
Firefighters will walk out – between 10am and 7pm – as part of the long-running dispute between the FBU and government over pensions, and people are urged to take extra care to protect themselves from the risks of fire.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 09 July 2014
The wage gap between the highest and the lowest paid Sunderland council workers is now more than £163,000.
At the top, Sunderland City Council’s chief executive – currently Dave Smith – takes home an annual wage of £175,699 before tax, while a cleaner earns £12,435 per year for a 37-hour week.
Union representatives have now called for the difference to be slashed ahead of TUC’s Fair Pay Fortnight, which starts today.
The campaign comes as the full council is due to meet on Wednesday, when members will be asked to recommend approval of the draft pay policy statement for 2014 to 2015. If passed, it will then be formally adopted and published by the end of the month.
In justifying the salary level, a report – to be presented at the meeting – says the post is in line with a large city authority, with responsibility for the provision of wide-ranging services to 275,743 residents and a £678.8million service budget.
It reads: “The chief officer pay policy is designed to be easily understood and be transparent to the post holders, key stakeholders and the public.
“The structure and level of the pay arrangements is designed to enable the council to attract, motivate and retain key senior talent for the authority.”
Sunderland Unison branch secretary Diane Peacock said the union has campaigned for the difference in council salaries to be addressed as part of the Living Wage Campaign – which says people should be paid the amount needed for a basic standard of living.
She said: “Public sector workers have lost on average £4,000 since 2009, due to the pay freeze and increase in the cost of living.
“Many workers in the council earn below the Living Wage, forcing working families to rely on food banks, and hitting the local economy as people don’t have money to spend in it. The TUC’s Fair Pay Fortnight campaign starts next week, and our branch in Sunderland will be playing a part to urge the authority to work towards reducing this ratio and reward public sector workers for the excellent service they provide.”
Other high-earners within the authority, include the deputy chief executive, executive director of commercial and corporate services and executive director of people services, which all fall within a salary range of £117,572 and £128,063 per year. Deputy executive and corporate directors, of which there are four, are on between £81,960 and £97,327.
The lowest paid employees at Grade A are newly-appointed cleaners for the first six months of service.
Apprentices are not included in the report.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 24 March 2014