April Ashley, Unison NEC member, personal capacity

At its February meeting, Unison’s National Executive Committee (NEC) debated the financial crisis in local government, as councils face a huge funding gap of £3.5 billion in 2024-25.

This dire situation means that council leaders warn that one in five councils could face ‘Section 114’ notices within the next couple of years.

Unison criticised the recent Tories’ emergency cash bailout of £600 million as not even ‘a short-term fix’, as more councils face effective bankruptcy.

In Birmingham, swingeing cuts to the council budget could mean up to 600 job losses and up to 25 libraries closing. As one NEC member said: “It could be the end of local government as we know it”, as a tidal wave of Tory cuts is coming to all local councils in the next few years.

NEC reps described the profound fear and dread of members facing job losses, and who need to know that their union stands with them. This pushed general secretary Christina McAnea to finally agree to speak at the Birmingham anti-cuts rally and send a message of support to the members.

The NEC debated the role of a potentially forthcoming Labour government. The anger of members means that Starmer-supporting Christina McAnea had to emphasise that Unison is not the Labour Party and is challenging Labour in many areas, and would not be dropping any of its policies.

But Unison is supporting Labour’s ‘new deal for working people’ programme, and so I raised, what will Labour do about local government funding under this programme?

We should be demanding an incoming Labour government provide emergency funding to local councils – not just those under ‘Section 114’ notices but all local councils, to stop huge cuts to jobs and services.

Indeed, the union should be exploring how we can take national industrial action, or at the very least coordinated action between councils facing bankruptcy.

I suggested we should call for councils to ‘do a Liverpool’ and set a no-cuts budget and fight the government for more council funding.

An update on the 2024 pay claims was also discussed, with a review of the lessons learned of 2023 industrial action campaigns due to be reported on shortly (see what we think ‘Unison’s role on local government pay and cuts’).