Tagged: Merv Butler

Jarrow Crusade-style march to campaign for the NHS

A crusade aimed at evoking memories of the famous Jarrow March arrives in the town next weekend.

The People’s March for the NHS is a campaign dedicated to preserving the founding principles of the NHS and ensuring its staff are afforded the treatment they deserve.

The march – which deliberately echoes the Jarrow Crusade for jobs in 1936 – has already called in at Tredgar in Wales and Bristol.

On Saturday, March 28, marchers will gather in Jarrow.

 The protesters will meet up with members of South Tyneside Public Service Alliance (PSA) at Jarrow Town Hall – where the original 200 marchers set off almost 79 years earlier.

The alliance has organised an event to highlight a last-ditch plan to save the under-threat Jarrow Walk-In Centre from closure.

Merv Butler, chairman of the Alliance, called on the public to turn out at 11am to hear a host of speeches from, among others, Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn.

He said: “It is vitally important that we prevent the closure of the facility. The event will focus on the need to keep it open and we want as many people there as possible to show their support.”

It seems clear that the outcome of the General Election will determine the centre’s fate. Labour has pledged to keep it open if elected.

The Conservatives are putting the decision in the hands of an independent adjudicator.

Mr Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, added: “Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has given his party’s assurance that it will be saved.”

Source – Shields Gazette, 21 Mar 2015

South Tyneside Council faces yet more cuts after losing £7m in funding

The pain is set to continue for South Tyneside Council and the people it serves as a near £7m cut in government funding was announced.

It means the authority will need to find yet more savings from services.

The settlement for 2015/16 – the amount the council can expect from the Government – announced by Local Government and Communities Minister Kris Hopkins yesterday, is £161,662m – compared to £168,482m – in the current financial year.

That is a reduction of four per cent and means the local authority has £6.821m less to spend on everything from waste collection to road maintenance.

That is significantly higher than the national average grant allocation cut of just 1.8 per cent.

Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, said:

“The Government has published its provisional grant figures for local authorities.

“We are currently analysing the proposed settlement for South Tyneside in detail to look at how it impacts on the local authority’s finances.

“We have already had to deal with an unprecedented series of budget cuts and have made savings of more than £100m so far. Over recent years, we have redesigned our services for maximum efficiency, improved quality through new models of service delivery and strategically planned ahead for further funding reductions.”

Borough council leaders do at least have an incentive to freeze council tax – for the fifth consecutive year.

Since 2011, the local authority has not increased the levy to its taxpayers by utilising a financial incentive from central government.

The Government has confirmed that incentive will remain in place in 2015/16 – making another freeze more likely.

Merv Butler, branch secretary of the borough’s Unison trade union, who has seen hundreds of his members lose their council jobs over the last four years, accused the Government of targeting areas in the most need.

He said: “This announcement is desperately difficult news for council staff and services.”

The local authority has already made an estimated £90m of efficiency savings since 2010, shedding 1,200 jobs in the process and the latest settlement will have an impact on every home in the borough.

There are 70,329 households in South Tyneside and average council spending on each amounts to £2,395.63p in the current financial year.

Next year that will drop to £2,298.65p – a four per cent reduction of £96,98p per household.

Mr Butler added:

“I expected a difficult settlement and that’s what we got. The fact that the council’s spending power has been reduced compared to the English average shows again that the Government is not giving sufficient grants to areas of need such as South Tyneside.”

Mr Hopkins has insisted the funding grants settlement for 2015-16 was “fair for all parts of the country”.

He said:

“Councils facing the highest demand for services continue to substantially receive more funding and we continue to ensure that no council will face a loss of more than 6.4 per cent in spending power in 2015-16, the lowest level in this Parliament.”

Source –  Shields Gazette,  19 Dec 2014

South Tyneside nursery nurses face £5,000 pay cut

Nursery nurses in South Tyneside could see their salaries slashed by as much as £5,000 a year under controversial contract shake-up plans, it was revealed today.

The changes, which could see some school support staff losing a third of their take-home pay, are being opposed by public-sector trade union Unison.

It has branded the plans “totally unacceptable” and has vowed to fight them all the way.

A union-led school pay campaign group has been launched to protect the salaries of about 100 female nursery nurses in South Tyneside.

Councillors have also been lobbied for support.

Coun Linda Hemmer, a ward member for Fellgate and Hedworth in Jarrow, said she was appalled after hearing about the suggested pay cuts.

She said: “If this gets the go-ahead, some of these nursery nurses could lose up to a third of their income, which is just appalling.

“Some of these women will not have had much in the way of pay rises in recent years and could be the sole breadwinners in their families.

“I have received three anonymous letters from nursery nurses about these plans, and I couldn’t believe that this council was even considering cutting their salaries by between £4,000 and £5,000 a year.

“This would have a devastating impact on their families.”

The nursery nurses set to lose out because of the contract revamp have long-standing employment contracts, some stretching back more than 20 years, protecting their salaries both in and outside school term time.

Their current salaries range from £16,500 to just under £20,000.

Schools called for talks between the council and trade unions on possible changes to the women’s employment terms to bring South Tyneside Council into line with other local authorities.

Merv Butler, Unison’s South Tyneside branch secretary, said: “We have been talking to council officers about these plans, but we have told the authority they are totally unacceptable.

“Basically, the council believes these contracts put these nursery nurses out of place with other school support staff.

“These workers are paid through school budgets, so it’s not about council cuts, but about the harmonisation of contracts to bring them together contractually with other support staff.

“But some of these women could lose up to £5,000 a year if these changes are approved, and Unison couldn’t countenance valued school workers losing a third of their salary.”

However, although talks between Unison, its members and council officials are ongoing, Mr Butler added that he hopes that the council may not proceed any further in the proposals.

A spokesman for the council said: “In response to requests from some schools, we have started discussions with trade unions regarding support staff contracts in schools.

“These talks are aimed at offering scope to harmonise conditions of service for school support staff, which would also bring South Tyneside in line with other local authority areas.

“However, at present, no changes have been proposed to contracts.”

Source –  Shields Gazette,  03 Oct 2014

1,000 South Tyneside Council staff set to get ‘living wage’

Oone thousand low-paid council workers in South Tyneside are today a step closer to receiving a ‘living wage’.

The move – recommended by an independent commission – leaves South Tyneside Council needing to find £700,000 to cover its wage bill if it presses ahead with the plan next year.

The commission has recommended South Tyneside pays its lowest paid workers a minimum of £7.65 an hour – £1.34 above the national minimum wage of £6.31 an hour.

This would help about 1,000 cleaners, school lunch supervisors and catering assistants in schools, residential homes and leisure facilities – 95 per cent of whom are women.

It would mean those workers, who are paid £6.54 an hour, would see their hourly rate rise by £1.11.

It is highly unlikely any change will come into force before April next year – because the council’s budget for the financial year has already been set.

The decision was labelled “historic” today by Merv Butler, the branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, which has long campaigned for the introduction of the living wage.

Mr Butler would favour an immediate introduction of the increase but, if that’s not possible, he will be pushing for a “stepped approach” – with phased rises in the rate paid per hour over the next few months.

He said:

This is an historic day for Unison. We have campaigned long and hard for the council to introduce the living wage. The recommendations of the commission bring that a massive step closer.

“Our task now is to get the council to bring in the living wage as soon as possible, and we have a clear plan on how they can do this.

“The report shows that 1,195 job holders are paid below the living wage and nearly 95 per cent of these are women.

“This proposal will make a real difference to our members. It will put money into the local economy as well.”

Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, will now work over the coming months with finance officers to look to identify funding for the change.

He said:

“As a council, we are committed to social justice and trying to bring real change to the lives of people in South Tyneside.

“This is why we welcome the commission’s report into the impact of introducing the living wage in the borough.

“There is a compelling case to introduce a living wage because it brings dignity and pays families enough to enjoy a basic but acceptable standard of living. However, it is important that we consider this very carefully in the context of ever decreasing budgets and our commitment to protecting vital services in South Tyneside.”

Coun Joan Atkinson, the council’s lead member for children, young people and families, described the living wage as a “priority” and a chance to take struggling families out of poverty,

She said:

“It is going to be hard.We don’t have a hidden pot of money but, through innovative measures savings are being made. This is a priority and we need to find a way of funding it.”

Coun Malcolm added:

“We would like to thank Professor Keith Shaw and his commission members for the wealth of work they have done on this issue.

“They have produced a very comprehensive report exploring what we can do as an employer to lift more people out of low pay and support local families.”

Source –  Shields Gazette, 05 Sept 2014

North East public sector strike news – 2

SUNDERLAND –

Puplic services ground to a halt across Wearside yesterday as workers walked out in support of the strike. Schools, libraries, leisure centres, museums and other public buildings were shut.

Pickets were in place outside Sunderland Civic Centre.

John Kelly, secretary of Unite’s Sunderland City Council Branch, said: “Unite is proud to be taking part in strike action alongside our fellow trade unions.

“This is a fight for better public services, and for fair pay for those who work hard to deliver those services.

“Council workers have been targeted to bear the brunt of the austerity measures that have been imposed by millionaire cabinet ministers since 2010. Unite fully understand that Labour-run councils like Sunderland City Council are the scapegoats when implementing this Coalition Government’s austerity measures.

“Local government workers and the communities they deliver services to believe that local government workers should have fair pay, not poverty pay.”

Source – Sunderland Echo, 11 July 2014

SOUTH TYNESIDE –

There were pickets outside South Shields Town Hall, the town’s Middlefields refuse depot and at the JobCentre in Chapter Row, and more than half of schools in the borough closed for the day.

All the borough’s libraries were also shut, and all council refuse collections were cancelled, and the crematorium on John Reid Road, South Shields, closed for the day.

Despite the widespread disruption, Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, believes the public remain generally supportive of the action – and the reasons behind it.

Horn-beeping motorists expressed support for the dozen or so trade unionists gathered outside the town’s hall’s Beach Road entrance yesterday and, also on hand to show his support was Labour councillor Ernest Gibson, Mayor of South Tyneside last year.

There were pickets from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at Harton Technology College in South Shields.

The school was closed to pupils, although members of other teaching unions and non-union staff did go into work.

COUNTY DURHAM –

Striking workers picketed outside council offices, job centres, tax offices and courts across County Durham and North Yorkshire.

Workers from government agencies including the Student Loans Company in Darlington, the Passport Office in Durham City and the HM Revenue & Customs offices in Thornaby took part in the industrial action.

In County Durham, more than 130 schools closed for the day, although only a handful of Darlington’s schools shut.

Twenty North Yorkshire schools closed and a further 50 suffered disruption.

On Teesside about 35 schools in Stockton were closed or partially-closed.

A survey commission by Unite on the eve of the strike found that 50 per cent of people in the North of England agreed that the local government workers’ call for an £1 per-hour pay rise was justified.

The poll confirms that people across the North support workers who are fighting to end poverty pay in our local councils,” said Mike Routledge, Unite local government officer for the North-East.

Source – Northern Echo, 10 July 2014

HARTLEPOOL –

Picket lines could be seen around the town with the most prominent outside of the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road, Hartlepool.

Other’s took place outside Hartlepool Borough Council-run buildings in Church Street, and also in Wesley Square, outside the Jobcentre.

Councillor Stephen Thomas, Labour representative for the De Bruce ward, was also on the picket line to offer his support.

Coun Thomas, who works for Health Watch Hartlepool but took the day off to take part in the action, said: “I’m here to basically show my support to the strikers because I think that the way the Government is treating government sector workers is absolutely appalling.

“The one per cent pay rise they’ve had in the last four years equates to a 14 per cent cut in real terms.”

Teachers were also included in the strike with a number of Hartlepool schools closed for the day.

The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) also joined forces in the strike action, with crews from Cleveland Fire Brigade’s Stranton Fire Station forming a protest.

Brian Gibson, the FBU chairman for Cleveland, said: “The action we took part in is particularly important because all the unions have got together to show our strength of feeling at getting one per cent pay rises. The FBU’s argument is also with the Government over pensions.”

He added: “We’ve had great public support, all we’ve had is support.

“We’re so pleased.”

Source – Hartlepool Mail, 11 July 2014

MIDDLESBROUGH –

Outside Middlesbrough Town Hall this morning, many office workers arriving for work crossed the picket lines.

Dawn Nicholson, Unison Area Organiser said: “It’s going well.

“Some people are crossing the picket lines but a lot of them are employed by Mouchel.

“Mouchel workers haven’t been balloted and can’t strike but many have signed our petition.”

However as one woman made her way into work she answered calls for her to strike saying: “People are still need to make a living.

GMB union, shop steward, Brian Foulger, said: “We’re quite surprised by how many people, even management, have gone out on strike.

“Since 2010, local government have been putting money away for a rainy day. Well, it’s pouring down.”

Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 10 July 2014

South Tyneside – Council workers ‘relying on food banks’ as pay freeze bites

A trade union boss in South Tyneside has spoken of his fears that some of his members are having to rely on food banks to make ends meet.

 As public sector workers prepare for a day of unprecedented industrial action in the borough tomorrow, Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, offered a staunch defence of the action, saying his members had continued to provide services on the ground despite “draconian Government cuts”.

Strikes by council workers, school staff and firefighters are set to cause disruption to people across the borough tomorrow.

Mr Butler says it is “likely” that some of his membership have resorted to food banks to make ends meet, although he knows of no specific cases locally.

Carers, social workers, refuse collectors, street cleaners and teaching assistants are among thousands of local council and school support workers in South Tyneside striking as part of a nationwide action over pay.

Mr Butler says a pay freeze imposed by the Coalition Government in 2010, 2011 and 2012 – and below-inflation rises in eight of the last 17 years – has sent the pay packets of local government and school workers “plummeting back to the level of the 1990s”.

He said: “Many council workers in South Tyneside have been left struggling to get by, with some, no doubt, relying on food banks, second jobs and in-work benefits to make ends meet.

“This year’s offer would result in a cumulative real-term cut of almost 20 per cent for more than a million local government and school workers.”

Unison is urging the employers to get back to the negotiating table with an offer that recognises the “invaluable contribution members make to their local communities”.

Mr Butler added: “Council workers have kept on going in the face of four years of draconian Government cuts to keep local services in South Tyneside running.

“They care for our elderly and our vulnerable, keep our streets clean, and educate and look after our children.

“They deserve better treatment than they have had at the hands of this Government.

“Taking strike action is never easy but our members are sending a clear message to the Government that they have had enough.

“Low-paid women make up the backbone of most local councils and they deserve to be paid a decent wage.

“The employers must get back into talks immediately to avoid a damaging dispute.”

Most civic buildings in South Tyneside will be closed to the public tomorrow. But buildings operated solely by South Tyneside Homes and BT South Tyneside will be open as usual.

The council’s contact centre at South Shields Town Hall will be closed to the public, but inquiries can still be made on 427 7000.

As a result of the action, all bin collections tomorrow will be cancelled.

These bins will be emptied on the next due collection date, Thursday, July 24.

Meanwhile, firefighters in the borough will also be on strike tomorrow from 10am to 7pm in support of their ongoing pensions claim.

Source – Shields Gazette,  09 July 2014

South Tyneside – Frontline council jobs to be axed as cuts bite deeper

More than 30 frontline South Tyneside Council jobs are to be shed in a new bid to streamline services.

 The council needs to cut 33 posts in the areas of housing services, community safety and street cleaning – reducing staff from 150 to 117.

It is hoped the majority of jobs will go through voluntary redundancies, redeployment and early retirement.

The plan is to establish a new streamlined housing and area management team to be overseen by South Tyneside Homes.

Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, said the new approach was part of a bid to “deliver frontline services in the most efficient way possible”.

But Merv Butler, branch secretary with Unison South Tyneside – which is now in consultation over the changes – described them as “worrying”.

One employee affected by the switch said frontline services would “inevitably” be cut as a result.

Among the posts threatened are housing officers on various grades, tenant enforcement officers and community wardens and street cleaning managers, supervisors and workers.

Coun Malcolm said: “In the face of unprecedented financial challenges, we have to continue to look at ways of delivering frontline services in the most efficient way possible, without compromising on quality.

“We’ve identified a range of housing, community safety and area management functions across South Tyneside Council and South Tyneside Homes that would benefit from being integrated through one single organisation.

“The integration of street cleaning and estate maintenance functions will build on the highly successful Handy Estates pilot that has been in operation across the council and South Tyneside Homes since April 2013, and has received very positive feedback.

“We are confident that this new model will deliver an improved public service by concentrating our resources where there is a proven track record of expertise.”

He added: “We are very conscious that changes of this nature can be unsettling for the staff involved.

“We are doing all we can to minimise uncertainty and have already held a series of briefing sessions with affected members of staff and trade unions representatives.

“Consultation, including one-to-one sessions with affected staff, will be ongoing. While this review will result in an overall reduction in the number of posts, we will ensure that this impacts on staff as little as possible, through management of redeployment opportunities, early retirements and voluntary redundancy.”

Mr Butler said: “The public need to understand the implications of this, particularly in the area of community safety as it could see a reduction in the number of community wardens.

“It is very worrying. The council does have difficult decisions to make but we want to see frontline services protected and our members jobs maintained.

“They see this as the best way of doing this is by creating this new structure. We just hope they are right.”

Although pay protection is in place, one employee, a multi-skilled operative, told the Gazette he believes his salary would be reduced from £19,000 to £14,000 a year under the proposals.

He said: “I just couldn’t exist on that and would to have leave the authority.

“I’m already looking for a new job.

“It’s particularly upsetting because these are workers on the frontline who are dealing with the public on a day-to-day basis, not faceless back office staff

“Those frontline services will inevitably be reduced as a result.

“We feel we have been unfairly selected.”

Source –  Shields Gazette,  12 June 2014

Budget will only widen north-south divide

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck today claimed George Osborne’s fifth budget would only widen the north-south divide.

 

She believes  Osborne’s statement demonstrated the Coalition Government is “out of touch” with people in the constituency.

She said: “He tried to say that the economy is turning around, but households in South Shields who have seen their wages fall while prices rise month after month will see right through him.

“It’s clear whose side the Chancellor is on. Wages in London’s banking sector are rising nearly five times faster than the national average, and even then he won’t rule out tax cuts for the top earners. Meanwhile, those on low incomes are continuing to see their living standards fall.”

Coun Iain Malcolm, the leader of South Tyneside Council, labelled the budget a “gimmick”.

He said: “The budget was classic ‘smoke and mirrors’, full of pre-election gimmicks. They announced that they would cut inheritance tax for emergency service workers killed in duty – but this only applies to those leaving more than £325,000, so it is difficult to calculate how many would actually benefit.”

Coun Malcolm said new support to build 200,000 new homes was “simply nowhere near enough to resolve the housing crisis facing this country”.

The budget received a more positive response from a senior member of the borough’s business community.

Julie Lightfoot, managing director of South Shields-based Solar Solve Ltd, said: “As a local family-owned business who exports 85 per cent of our turnover, it’s encouraging that the Government is supporting British manufacturers by introducing a £7bn package to cut energy bills

“Although we aren’t an intensive energy user, every little saving helps, although we’ll have to wait and see what the actual savings will be. However, it’s nice to know that half of the firms that will benefit the most by cuts in manufacturing costs are in the north of England.”

Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn said: “This is a government that has pushed down living standards to such an extent it has left working people £1,600 a year worse off.

“Osborne and the Tories only stand up for the privileged few.”

Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, said: “The Chancellor should have had the courage of his convictions and stood by his support of a £7 minimum wage. Moving to the Living Wage is the best way to raise tax revenue and put money into people’s pockets. It would boost consumer confidence and increase spending in local shops and businesses.”

North East Chamber of Commerce policy director Ross Smith said: “This was a sensible budget, and the conditions within which North East businesses can continue their strong contribution to UK growth have been strengthened by these announcements.”

Source – Shields Gazette,  21 March 2014

South Tyneside rents to rise as £18m budget cuts bite

RENTS for 18,000 council tenants in South Tyneside are to rise by an average of £5.50 a week, it has been revealed.

However, there was better news for residents in the borough as South Tyneside Council boss, Coun Ed Malcolm, revealed that Council Tax bills are to be frozen for the fourth consecutive year.

The details emerged from the local authority’s budget plans for the coming 12 months in which it needs to find another £18m worth of savings.

That is made up of a £9m reduction in Government funding and another £9m in other areas – particularly services for the young and elderly.

Savings need to be identified out of a revenue budget – made up from government funding and Council Tax payments – of £148m for 2014/15.

Despite the pressures, the council is committed to spending almost £5m improving borough highways and footpaths.

It is pushing ahead with selling off council buildings which are regarded as being “surplus to requirement” – with profits 
re-invested in capital programmes.

As a result of a Council Tax freeze, the owner of an average Band C property in the borough will pay an estimated £1,290 for the year from April.

Meanwhile, council rents will increase by 6.8 per cent, which is in line with Government guidelines.

That would mean the average weekly borough rent, which currently stands at £78.34 over a 48-week period, rising by about £5.50 – which still represents the lowest level in Tyne and Wear.

It’s estimated the hike will add an additional £4.7m to the council’s coffers.

Coun Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, today pledged that “no one would suffer” as a result of the budget proposals he has overseen.

There was also a commitment that job losses at the council will be less than in previous years – with more than 1,000 posts shed since 2010.

He said: “Even though we have had £18m of budget cuts to find this year, I’m confident that this budget will mean we can still provide services to anyone who wants them, anyone who needs them.

“No one will suffer because of this budget. As a Labour council, we remain committed to social justice.

“The key message is that is that we are continuing to get funding reductions, we’ve got nine per cent less core funding and we still have the standstill financial pressures on top.

“We’re going to be freezing Council Tax for the fourth consecutive year and that means we will have the third lowest in the North East, and we remain committed to our ambitious regeneration of the borough.

“We face £18m worth of savings in the year ahead. The days of salami-slicing budgets are over.

“We’ve looked at integration, working with partners in the private sector, the public sector and the voluntary sector on Adult and Social Care.

“The council has a lot of buildings which have passed their sell-by-date and I think we can work more efficiently by redesigning the town hall and have the majority of staff transferred there.

“Then we have the community hubs which will provide a majority of services under one roof.”

Coun Malcolm added: “There will still be job implications but we will endeavour to keep away from compulsory redundancies.

“Because we are redesigning services there will be redundancies but we envisage there will be less than in previous years. We
 are also putting substantial investment in highways and pathways and increasing amount of money going to Community Area Forums by £50,000.”

Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, said: “Jobs-wise, next year we are hearing that there will be a little bit of respite in terms of a large number of job losses.

“But there are still going to be job losses in the area of business support and the merger of some other services together.”

Source – Shields Gazette  05 Feb 2014