Monday 2 June 2014

Broken Barnet: the annual meeting, and a new term begins, as care workers facing punitive pay cuts vote to strike

Tonight sees the annual meeting of Barnet Council, the very first, of course, since the election, and one which marks the beginning of a new administration, but which will largely consist of the archaic and arcane rituals of mayor-making, and assorted speeches of self congratulation and mutual admiration from members.

This annual pantomime is the highlight of the year, of course, for our Tory councillors, who live in eternal anticipation of one day becoming Mayor, and being allowed a turn at dressing up like a character in Toytown, sweeping into the council chamber in their fox fur trimmed robes, escorted by Cinderella's footmen, bowing reverentially before them, in white gloves and stockings, and carrying the golden mace of office on a velvet cushion. 

Tonight's performance will see the enthronement of the new Mayor, Hugh Rayner, who very nearly lost his seat in the election, and will be beside himself with joy to get his go after all, and do what he does best for the rest of the year, sit happily below an old portrait of HM the Queen, chairing meetings with brisk bonhomie, and being awfully polite.

Of course there will be some familiar faces missing tonight: the two Councillor Tambourides - sadly missed. And the non aligned member for Totteridge: now just permanently non aligned, Brian Coleman, released from a long career of selfless public service, to spend more time with ... with himself, and serve him right. Mrs Angry understands that as a past Mayor, he is entitled to attend the ceremony, with a guest: will he? Doubtful, one would think.

Tonight will see the new intake of councillors on the Labour side of the chamber, who will sit nervously in their red roses, and wonder what the f*ck they have let themselves in for, as they are compelled to sit through the ceremony of mayor making, and witness their Tory counterparts preening themselves in their Harry Potter style gowns, and crowing over yet another electoral victory.

Commendable words of exhortation to a life of high moral principle will be spoken by the new Mayor's chaplain, words which will be studiously ignored by all over the course of the next twelve months, and then all the councillors and their guests will head off towards a lovely buffet, laid out in one of the committee rooms, at your expense.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, where Barnet is still Broken, and no one really cares, do they? 

This press release has just been issued by Barnet Unison.

Barnet UNISON Press Release: 2 June 2013

Barnet UNISON organised a strike ballot which closed on Tuesday 27 May 2014 in response to a 9.5% cut in pay being imposed on our members. 

Our members working for Your Choice Barnet have delivered a 100% vote for strike action.


In February 2012 Barnet Council transferred Learning Disability and Physical and Sensory Impairment services for adults to a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC) called Your Choice Barnet (YCB). 

About 160 staff (145.6 Full Time Equivalents) in Adults services transferred to the LATC. Following a restructure and cuts to pay on shift allowances there are now only about 105 FTE working for YCB. This is a resounding ballot result and vindication of why Barnet UNISON has always said the additional 9.5% cut was unacceptable both to our members and the future for these critical frontline services. It is not feasible to continually attack low paid workers and expect them to take it without a fight and our members are not prepared to put up with joining a race to the bottom that is now common practice in the social care industry. The business case for this outsourced service was flawed from the outset three years ago and to date we have yet to see any financial figures which demonstrate this service will be able to deliver new business. 

Our members are taking a pay cut in order for YCB to repay Barnet Homes a loan borrowed at commercial rates of interest! 

Last year Barnet Council brought back the recycling service because they felt they could do a better job, which is why we are asking them to bring this service back in house in order to ensure a safe and secure service for Adults with Disabilities in Barnet. 

The last twelve months have seen a sharp increase in the numbers of agency staff and zero hours contracts being used to deliver these services. The attacks on staff have undermined morale and led to an exodus of experienced staff. For many of our members this is a last chance to save the service.

UNISON Branch Secretary John Burgess said: “Our members have always been clear they are fighting for their jobs and the future of the service. We are now seeking an urgent meeting with Your Choice Barnet to see if talks can avert having to take strike action.”

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis: 

"Your Choice Care Workers are fighting to preserve a service to some of the most vulnerable people in society and I want express my admiration and solidarity for a brave and principled group of people." 

"Many of our members have said that the 9.5% cut in pay will mean they simply will not be able to pay their bills and some would struggle to keep their homes. This outstanding strike ballot of 100% for strike action shows they have the courage and  determination to fight for these critical frontline services.” 

Strike action is not being undertaken lightly by the people who are employees of Your Choice Barnet. They have been driven to it, by the absolute intransigence of those running YCB, and the Tory leadership's total refusal to address the catastrophic failings of the Local Authority Trading Company that they created, using a disastrously flawed business model by the same private consultants who 'implemented' the massive Capita deal, at vast expense to local tax payers.

Bad enough, you might reasonably think, to think up a scheme like YCB in which you seek to make profit out of providing care to vulnerable and disabled residents. Put aside the moral question this presents, and consider the underlying principle: that it is possible to make profit out of providing care to vulnerable and disabled residents, and if it is possible, to do so without in any way posing a real threat to users and their families, or without exploiting the already very poorly paid staff who must be relied on to provide such a sensitive and responsible support service. 

Add then, to this equation, another factor: the expectation by those who approved this lunatic scheme, that the profits from YCB would be so great, they could be relied upon to subsidise another part of the Barnet Group of 'hands off', 'at arms length so nothing to do with us' enterprises set up by Barnet Tories - Barnet Homes, their social housing venture. Yes, the mammoth will balance on the back of a tiny shrew, and all will be well.

Surprise, surprise, within a few months of YCB being launched, it became absolutely clear just how stupid an idea the whole premise of the business model was. (Did we ask for our money back, from the consultants?)

Odd, isn't it, how the party which is supposed to be one representing business, and enterprise, has allowed itself to be so easily duped into backing a clearly disastrous enterprise like YCB?

Your Choice Barnet had to be bailed out, by us, the residents and taxpayers, with a million quid, just to keep it afloat. Also expected to carry the can were the staff who carry out the care delivered to clients. They now face paycuts of 9.5%, which for someone already struggling on the low rate they receive is nothing short of disastrous.

No one could be more in need of skilled, compassionate care than the users of Your Choice Barnet: nothing is more guaranteed to drive standards of such care to the lowest point than imposing such draconian cuts on the pay of those expected to undertake work which is immensely difficult, and requires enormous personal commitment and sensitivity. There is no doubt that imposing such low pay on employees delivering this service will put patients at risk as YCB will struggle to find experienced, well trained staff that can provide the continuity and high standard of support that users and their families need.

It should be noted that families of clients of YCB support the staff in their action, and clearly want the best for their relatives, not a service delivered by low paid, demoralised employees, as demonstrated by parents of one user state here:

Our severely disabled son has benefited greatly from the commitment and expertise of Day Centre staff (now employed by YCB) over two decades. It is scandalous that they should be rewarded with savage pay cuts. The impact will be not only on their own livelihoods but also on the service users, who rely on them for enhancing their own quality of life.Their skill and dedication ought to be properly recognised, and we offer them our unreserved support.”

Janet and Tony Solomons

What has happened in the story of Your Choice Barnet is nothing short of a scandal. And yet of course, as the recent issue concerning Tory cuts to respite services at schools for disabled children in Barnet, in order to pay for their desperate pre-election gesture of a pathetic 1% tax cut demonstrated, the care of vulnerable residents is clearly not of any real concern to our Tory councillors, or to anyone else much, other than the local union representatives, and naturally the families of those whose relatives depend upon this vital support.

Will our Labour councillors back the strike action? Will they mention it tonight, at the council meeting? What will they do to help resolve the terrible betrayal of disabled residents that YCB represents? 

Unfortunately, last November, Labour members allowed themselves to be manoeuvred into endorsing a Task & Finish study of the YCB matter, widely condemned as a whitewash: see a previous blog - 'I don't have a problem making a profit' (clearly they do) - crossposted on False Economy:

The YCB case is a classic example, sadly, of where there has been a failure in Labour's leadership and strategy, and a failure to manage the real challenges of opposition: failure which has a real and lasting impact on the best interests of the residents of this borough.

Still: after all the mayor-making fun is over, and the remains of the buffet taken home in doggy bags by Tory councillors, we are left with a number of new Labour members, who have not yet been institutionalised, and are no doubt keen to prove their worth. 

But take a look at this first, maybe: a brilliant post on Labourlist, yesterday, by MP Dave Anderson, ostensibly about Hetton le Hole, the former Durham mining village where, coincidentally, many of Mrs Angry's family lived and worked in the past - and an example now of communities which are succumbing to political apathy, and protesting against what they see as indifference to their opinions by the Labour establishment by flirting with the divisive politics of UKIP:

He says we need to be again a party of hope, a party of visionaries. 

He says:

If the people of Hetton and thousands of other similar communities are ever going to put their faith fully in Labour again we have to give them the belief that things can be changed and that not only can we do it , we will do it. And we have to have belief in ourselves and our party that we are up to the challenge. The great people of this country deserve nothing less.

And nor do the people of Barnet. 

At the Big Meeting, the Durham Miners' Gala, last year, there was no Labour leader present, as tradition once demanded - Ed Miliband stayed away, licking his wounds after the Falkirk fiasco - and indeed throughout his term as MP for Sedgefield, MP Tony Blair refused to attend. 

Blair's absence on the balcony of the Royal County Hotel, we must agree, marked the beginning of a fracture in the relationship between the Labour party, and its natural electorate. What it said, in essence was this: you don't matter any more, and we are turning our backs on you. In the long run, you could even argue, Blair's legacy has done as much to betray communities like Hetton as Thatcher herself. Not with a knife, but a patronising smile.

Post Blair, the Labour party is run almost entirely by young white, middle class men, privately educated, Oxbridge careerists, whose purpose in life is not so much the advancement of the best interests of ordinary citizens, as their own personal promotion. 

Something has gone badly wrong, hasn't it? 

The party has lost the very thing that created its raison d'etre: the spirit of rebellion, of compassion for those in need, a determination to attack the roots of social injustice in this country, and replace it with something better, something that recognised the dignity and vulnerability of the human condition, rather than sought to exploit it. 

Nationally, and locally, we need to reclaim that spirit, and reconnect with the people we claim to represent.

Here in Barnet we have a new start: let's begin by doing the right thing, and fighting for the employees and users of Your Choice Barnet. 

Let's not condone the Tories' policies, by default, or by intention, but do everything we can to oppose their own cynical, gutless exploitation of the weakest, and most vulnerable members of our society. 

Over to you, friends.


Anonymous said...

Mrs A , I Left a comment on Barnet eye on the same subject , the Greed & Hippo racy are astonishing that the Directors & Executive,s of (YCB ) Do not include themselves in the pay Cuts !!! Do not take Any Risks !!! It is us the public the carry the financial Risks !!! If they are Happy to take the Reward then they should take the Risks , this crap that they want the freedoms of a private company But none of the Risks is an outrage !!!!!!

Red Sonia said...

Rumour in Mirror Pickles to be given job of fighting UKIP because he is, er, a " heavyweight".

Come on you Labour: sitting duck. Get some backbone and give the guy (and UKIP) a run for their money.

No more fence sitting: this, this and this is what we will do in the first 100 days if we have a majority. Suggestion: bring in the "Robin Hood" bankers tax and extra-fund the NHS with it; get fuel bills frozen for 12-18 months whilst getting the Competition Commission (or whatever the flavour of the month is) to investigate the Big 6 and say that people may come here from the EU if a job has been advertised for 6 months at LIVING wage and has had no takers (the EU charter says free movement of LABOUR not everyone) and agree a 12-18 month moratorium on education changes EXCEPT no more academies, to give teachers time to catch their breath. Oh, and repeal tuition fees.

Not everyone (including Mrs Angry) will agree with my list but at least I have one!

Anonymous said...

Hi Red Sonia , yes you are correct , But you Left Out the biggest cone Ever perpetrated on us !!!! That Being the so called austerity program !!!! So how is that So !! First we were told for years the propaganda of private money Good public money Bad !!! But then we had the private Banks Loaning money to one another at Rates that they themselves set , so £1 with interest could Become £10 or £50 so what Happend is that We Have Not only Loaned them the Money , But we Are Also Paying IT !!! BACK !!! & that interest on money that was NEVER there , how clever of them & stupid are We !!!!

Red Sonia said...

When is the by-election for the last 3 seats - I will put it in my diary!

One thing to remember, too, in the rearrangement of meetings saga is that it cuts both ways: votes fall to who is there on the night. If there is a big do on at the golf club or the masonic hall or Dave is being entertained, the vote might just swing the other way!

The Grimesthorpe Colliery Band could be a problem, though .....

Mrs Angry said...

June 26th is the date.

And yes: this is why the Tories are being so spiteful now: many of them are inherently lazy and self indulgent and will be horrified by the prospect of actually having to attend every meeting they are supposed to, or standby as substitutes for colleagues.