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Posted on 20 January 2011 at 16:59 GMT

Manchester council cuts - figures don't add up

Childrens' Services face massive outsourcing

The plot has thickened at Manchester city council in the days following the 2,000 job losses announcement, as public statements and internal council documents shed further light on the situation.

Hugh Caffrey, Manchester Socialist Party

Manchester council's funding is being slashed by 110 million by the Con-Dem government over two years. In response, the council announced 2,000 jobs must go and put the 12,000-strong workforce on notice that any of their jobs are at risk.

A Unison member who works for the council told us what she thinks:

"With these slashes to Children's Services, the social workers who I know were absolutely amazed because it's the first time that cuts like this have been made there. The level of deprivation in north Manchester where I work is very high already. With these cuts it's just going to get worse".

The council says it must save 70 million this year through job losses, having already identified 40 million 'savings' from areas other than staff costs. It intends to use 60 million of council reserves - previously earmarked for other projects - to carry this out. These figures are corroborated by a statement on 13 January from Unison branch secretary Pat McDonagh on the branch website www.unisonmanchester.org .

But if the "necessary" cut in annual spending on wages is roughly the same as the one-off 70 million cost of redundancy, which in turn approximates to the 60 million reserves, why does anyone need to be made redundant? If these figures are true, the council has enough money to avoid these redundancies.

The Socialist Party argues for councils to use their reserves to safeguard services and jobs while mass campaigns are built up for more funding. Yet here we have one of the largest authorities in the country using reserves to ensure mass redundancies! Is there another agenda? Is the council preparing to fully accept not only these cuts, but more cuts in two to three years' time as expected by many local authorities?

McDonagh's statement is an improvement on the previous national Unison statement. It says: "Unison has made it very clear we remain completely opposed to compulsory redundancies". Moreover it correctly warns that the actual job loss figure could be higher if redundancies are concentrated among low-paid staff, more of whom would have to be laid off to achieve 70 million of cuts. The above Unison member says:

"We got the statement as an email. What surprised me was that it says we'll work towards voluntary severance and voluntary redundancy but what it didn't say was how we'll work with people to avoid redundancies. There's a lack of substance and 'what we're going to do', it's a bit weak really! The branch leadership should be actively opposing the cuts and supporting members to oppose the cuts, they need to invest a bit of time and come along to members at the grassroots level to chat with people and talk about what we can do to oppose the cuts."

Unison needs to warn of what lies ahead, and pose a serious alternative to job losses beyond 'less use of consultants'. It should oppose, not support, "making further use of shared services with other GM [Greater Manchester] Councils ".

"We're doing the 'sharing of services' already where I work, as 'clusters' in an area. It doesn't work very well now just in our council, so I don't see how they'd make it work across local authorities".

It won't work and should be opposed as a detrimental, job-loss, corner-cutting agenda of the employers.

The council will announce its budget on 8 February, with an executive meeting on the 16th and a full council meeting on 8 March. A 'Staff Briefing' produced as part of this process indicates some other concerns. Services will be hammered by job losses, whether these are voluntary or not. The document talks of "increasing resident self-reliance" ie less support for people who need assistance from services, and "increasing participation in work", ie more attacking of unemployed people because there are no jobs.

No provision is made for council workers' pay for the period to 31 March 2013.

"Performance" will be "addressed", in relation to "long-term absence, attendance and capability". It would have been shorter to say "More bullying for sick workers", who presumably will be encouraged to take sabbaticals and job share or part-time working in the next breath.

The council wants to find more and new savings and "deliver them quicker". What this means for Children's Services is made clear by a report prepared for the next Personnel Committee on 19 January. Total outsourcing of Early Years and 10-19 Years services is proposed, with two new bosses appointed on 60k apiece to drive this through.

The report, in New Labour jargon, urges: "drive down dependency... Children's Services as the strategic influencer and commissioner... less direct delivery by Children's Services... the commissioning of services through other Directorates, other community based providers (eg schools), and the stimulation of social enterprises."

A Labour council repeating almost word for word the pro-privatisation gibberish of Cameron's 'big society'! The rest of the document makes clear that only "the most vulnerable children" will be covered by direct council services, everything else will be outsourced. How can other council directorates step in to fill the gap after 110 million of cuts, including 2,000 less staff ?

The report quotes Unison as having "raised concerns on the future delivery of Early Years" but that they "look forward to working with [named top councillors and officials] on the implementation... and believe we can support members through difficult times ahead."

Unite is holding meetings to consult with members over whether to take action against the job losses. Unison needs to follow suit. A plan of serious action, up to and including strike action, would give the councillors and senior officers a sharp shock.

All this illustrates why the Socialist Party says "no to all cuts in jobs and services". Anything less opens the door to the scams, tricks and double-dealing so ably employed by Manchester city council leaders, pitting worker against worker and service-workers against service-users. A united struggle against all the cuts is crucially urgent.

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