Category Archives: Cuts

“Unsafe & Unsustainable”- Barnet UNISON speech to Barnet Councillors

barnet-unison-logo-e1462368170626The following speech was delivered to General Functions Committee,
on Tuesday 6th December at 7pm in Hendon Town Hall

“Dear members of the committee

I addressing you as both the branch secretary of Barnet UNISON, but also speaking as a service user of mental health services, indeed without the support I was given and the ongoing support I still receive today there is a strong likelihood I may not of been speaking to you this eveningjohn-t-shirt

It is also worth noting much quoted statistic that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.

I therefore speak not only as a worker but from personal experience of using mental health services.

I also want to make this point that I believe is often missed by elected members. I speaking to you all as employers not politicians. It is as an employer I am wanting to address our members, your staff concerns about the proposal before the committee this evening.

Firstly, I can confirm we are not opposed to the staff being brought back into the Council and we are fully supportive of the proposed social care model of intervention.

However when travelling across the borough it is impossible not to see the number of housing developments; and with it the increase in population; and with that the increased need for schools, NHS provision, social services to name but a few public services.

It is therefore highly dangerous to be proposing to cut Mental Health services at a time when the population is growing.

It is our view that the proposed cut of mental health social workers coupled with the increase in responsibilities will NOT lead to a safer service for service users, families and carers.

Barnet UNISON is extremely concerned about the reduction of social workers and the introduction of Assessment Enablement Officers (AEO).

In mental health staff are working with extremely complex and high risk individuals in situations where you need qualified experienced and knowledgeable staff.

Currently mental health social workers have significantly high caseloads (which includes the work connected to their statutory responsibilities in their Approved Mental Health Practitioner roles.

The cut in social workers will lead to greater pressure upon an already pressured staff group increasing the risk of more Serious Untoward Incidents (SUI) happening.

You will no doubt have been briefed that the Council is not making any social workers redundant, which is true; and you will have been told that the new proposal to replace qualified social workers with AEO’s will provide a better service.

With respect this premise is nonsense.

The proposal to cut mental health social workers is directly driven by NEED.

However, not by the NEEDS of service users and carers, but by the NEED to make Austerity cuts.

Lessons learnt

I would like to remind the committee that it was only two years ago when I addressed this same committee about the now infamous Family Services restructure. At that meeting I tried to convince members of the committee to extend the period of consultation as I was concerned the changes had been driven through in haste and that I feared there would be consequences for the service and the staff.  Unfortunately the committee chose accept the advice of senior officers who are now no longer working for the council. However I can report that the restructure had to be revisited as I predicted, there was a high turnover of experienced social work staff which then resulted in the recruitment crisis you now have in children’s social work.


Sometimes it is worth listening to UNISON.


We’ve been here before 18th February this year, Adults brought a similar proposal to cut social work posts, and use non-professionally qualified workers.

My members, your staff, describe feeling they are “flying by the seat of their pants”

The rationale put before this committee for cutting social work posts was that new Capita IT database “Mozaic” would deliver efficiencies. Well 10 months later this is not happening because “Mozaic”, once again has been pulled. There have been so many false starts with Mozaic if they had been a sprinter they’d have been disqualified from the Olympics by now.


Consultancy spend

I want members to take a look at agency/consultants spend.

Last year the council spent £18.2 million on agency/consultants. This figure is larger than the year before which was £17.9 million, which was significantly larger than the previous year which was £15.5million, which was previously larger than the previous year £13.7million which was previously larger than the previous year £12.5million.

In the last two quarters of this year the Council has already spent £13.7 million on agency/consultants which if the current pattern continues could see the Council break £20million.

It is our view that the Council needs to address this agency/consultancy uncontrollable spend in order to protect vital front line services and in this case drop the proposal to cut social work posts.


John Burgess

Branch Secretary


Barnet Libraries are taking industrial action

UNISON members working in Barnet Libraries are taking industrial action on the 13th, 14th and 15th of June 2016 in opposition to the Council’s plan to outsource the Library Service.

What the Council intends for Barnet Libraries

  • Library posts will be cut by 46%, a loss of 52 full time equivalent posts
  • Staffed hours will be reduced by 70% (despite overwhelming opposition to this from respondents to the Council’s Library consultations)
  • Under 15 year olds unaccompanied by an adult will not be able to use libraries during unstaffed hours, which will be for most of the  time libraries are open
  • Library space to be reduced, thus cutting study space and book stock
  • Four libraries to be run by “community groups”
  • Phase 3 alternative delivery model to be identified for this section.

More detailed analysis of the destruction of the Library service can be found in our report entitled “Direct and Collateral Damage to the Future of Barnet Libraries” here

UNISON Picket Lines will be at the following Barnet Libraries:

  • Monday 13th June – Mill Hill Library (Hartley Avenue, Mill Hill, London NW7 2HX) from 8.30 am
  • Tuesday 14th June – North Finchley (Ravensdale Ave, North Finchley N12 9HP) from 8.30 am followed by a demonstration outside Barnet House 12-1 pm
  • Wednesday 15th June –  Chipping Barnet Library (3 Stapylton Road, Barnet, EN5 4QT) from 8.30 am

UNISON Library Convenor, Hugh Jordan said: Barnet UNISON calls for the current plan to decimate our Library Service to be stopped now before further damage is done. Our members are angry at proposals which look to sack half of them and then outsource them to another employer. Every day we hear of another Library closing due to cuts, handing over the service to volunteers or outsourcing. Enough is enough, there needs to be a national response to the systemic destruction of the national library service. Our Borough needs real libraries and real library professionals and para-professional, only this year our service was given a 96% customer satisfaction rating. If the Library staff less plan is implemented and staff sacked their absence will see Barnet pay a heavy price in the coming years as literacy levels fall, accessibility to information is reduced, and social mobility is further curtailed. Lastly, whilst we appreciate the current support from Library volunteers we are asking volunteers not to take our jobs away which is the part of the Barnet Libraries Plan”

Capita have cancelled Freedom Passes for adults with disabilities

Barnet Councils private contractors Capita have cancelled Freedom Passes for adults with mental health issues and other disabilities like autism without giving any notice. 
This has meant that many people have found out for the first time that their Pass has been cancelled while trying to use public transport. Others have had their Pass cancelled as a result of a reassessment, despite there being no change in their condition.
This is despicable and unacceptable.
And possibly illegal.
For further information on how Capita, on behalf of Barnet Council, are making the lives of disabled residents intolerable.
Barnet Labour have started a petition for immediate reinstatement of the disabled Freedom pass to these residents.
I urge you to please sign this petition and share throughout your networks.
We must stand against this treatment of disabled residents.


Unstaffed Libraries – Unsafe and Unproven

Unstaffed Libraries – Unsafe and Unproven

Barnet Council has used the examples of Denmark, Leeds and Peterborough to support their plan to replace Library workers with unstaffed libraries (Open+). Barnet UNISON exposed how the Danish use of unstaffed library opening differed from the Barnet plan.

The UK precedents also do not support the Council. In Leeds, Farsley Library uses Open+ technology to enable unstaffed opening hours. Unlike Barnet no cuts were made to staffed hours. Farsley is in a quiet and leafy part of Leeds. Under 18s as well as adults with a record of anti-social behaviour in libraries could not in theory enter the building during unstaffed hours. Less than 10% of local users availed themselves of the unstaffed opening hours and there were problems with the technology which prevented access to the site. After running the experiment for over a year no decision has been made. This is hardly an endorsement of unstaffed libraries.

In Peterborough the introduction of Open+ was used to cut staff hours. But Peterborough seems to have paid more attention to public safety as

“A decision was made to recruit four open+ assistants to maintain a presence in four library sites where it was felt that extra safeguarding measures were needed during open+ hours”
The job description for the post states

“The primary role of this post is to oversee the use of the library during unstaffed hours”
This raises the following questions: When is an unstaffed library not an unstaffed library? And why not have kept existing staff on site who could have provided in depth and wider service?

Barnet Council’s response to concerns over safety in unstaffed libraries is for a

“CCTV operator able to mobilise roving security to respond to any incident with the aim of a response time of 30 minutes”

(Barnet’s Future Library Service – Appendix A: Future of Barnet Libraries p35)

This is an inadequate measure, unable to provide swift and sufficient reaction to situations, such as

• Medical emergencies

• Electrical failures

• Burst water pipes

• Verbal and physical assault

• Emergency evacuations
It is hoped that the Council’s continuing desire to press on with unstaffed opening is due to a lack of information rather than disregard for the safety of library users. Barnet UNISON calls on the Council to reconsider this plan and to engage in meaningful discussion on the issues with all stakeholders in our Library Service.

To show your opposition to the Council’s plans for Barnet Libraries come to the lobby of the Full Council meeting at Hendon Town Hall on Monday 4th of April at 6pm, where the decision to go ahead with the proposal will be voted on. If the proposal is implemented then our libraries will suffer damage from which they may never recover. There is still time to Save Barnet Libraries

Barnet Council propose to cut library posts by 46%, alongside a 70% reduction of staffed hours at libraries. This is to be facilitated by Open+ technology which will…

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The Council’s Barnet Future Library Service Proposal- Bad for Libraries, Bad for Barnet

Barnet UNISON Press Release: 17 March 2016 


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The Council’s Barnet Future Library Service Proposal- Bad for Libraries, Bad for Barnet


  • The Council’s proposal, if implemented, will result in Barnet Libraries offering a reduced service.


  • Library posts will be cut by 46%, a loss of 52 full time equivalent posts.


  • Staffed hours will be reduced by 70% (despite overwhelming opposition to this from respondents to the Council’s Library consultations).


  • Unaccompanied under 15 year olds will not be able to use libraries for most of their opening hours.


  • Library space to be reduced, thus cutting study space and book stock.


  • Four libraries to be run by “community groups”.

Barnet Council has a statutory duty to provide a “comprehensive and efficient service”. This legal obligation will not be met in future because, as in the Council’s own words,

“The reduction in staffed opening hours will mean less support available in

the library to get advice, information and to utilise the resources in the

library. This will have the biggest impact on those who may require support

to make best use of services at static library sites or are less able, or

confident at using libraries without library staff support

(Barnet Future Library Service 5.9.10)

The proposal is based on an over-reliance on technology enabling unstaffed opening hours. This is despite the current and unparalleled failure of the Library Management System, although a contingency plan for a similar occurrence in the future is promised in the as yet unpublished Appendix L of the proposal.

However in the face of questions regarding the safety of unstaffed libraries the Council has modified its original intentions and wants to employ security guards at libraries at a cost of £785,000 a year. This is money that could be better spent by retaining library workers.

The Council’s scheme also places great emphasis on gaining income from renting out library space for commercial use, without providing any real evidence that there is demand. One of the few tangible instances of  an income generating idea in the proposal is the introduction of fines for  overdue children’s books at the same time as under 15 year old’s access to libraries is being reduced.

The Council’s proposal is a blueprint for the destruction of our libraries. It fails to recognise the range of services that a modern library should provide. It reduces accessibility, stock, space and the availability of the expertise and skills of library staff. It will make our libraries less desirable places to visit, which will see a decline in use. This will be used by the Council to close libraries in the future.

Barnet UNISON calls for the proposal to be rejected. Our Borough needs real libraries and real library professionals and para-professionals. Their absence will see Barnet pay a heavy price in the coming years as literacy levels fall, accessibility to information is reduced, and social mobility is further curtailed.



My hero in 2015? The man with the plan to beat the cuts

John Burgess talks a mile a minute, dresses in any colour as long as it’s black, and refers to other men as “lad” – even if they’re older than him. He’s also one of my heroes of 2015. Unlike most end-of-year gong-winners, Burgess is a name you won’t know. But if heroism is about being brave when it counts – about standing up straight even while others try to make you bend or break – he’s the real deal. And at a time when so much of the organised left is afflicted by loss of nerve, mind, or both, it is a relief to find someone who still has both.

For our purposes, Burgess’s story begins in May 2008 – at the point he was hoping to hang up his boots. After a long slog as branch secretary of Unison in Barnet, north London, he planned to return to his life as a local mental-health care worker. Then the Conservative-run council began offloading its key public services to big business – and he was thrust into the biggest battle of his life. Almost eight years later, he’s still defending jobs, campaigning against cuts, pointing out the expensive absurdities of outsourcing. Going back to care work? Nice dream.

John Burgess

Outsourced and unaccountable: this is the future of local government

To get an idea of the noxious politics at work, consider one of the big stories of the past few days. Conservative councillors in Essex unveil a plan to charge pensioners £26 for being picked up after a fall; newspapers pick it up; abuse is hurled by members of the public. The one man whose approval ratings go unaltered is the same one whose cuts make the whole outrage almost inevitable: George Osborne.

Thus is set the pattern for this decade. Somewhere near you, a sports hall will be closed down, a grandmother will lose her daily meals on wheels, the roads will sprout holes, and streetlights will go dark. Vast swaths of the public realm will either be abandoned or handed over to big companies to run at a profit. Each time, it will be the local council that wields the axe and faces down residents, although it’s merely following a course set for it around a table in Number 11.

When David Cameron won the May general election, the National Outsourcing Association released a statement welcoming his return. “Spending on public sector outsourcing almost doubled to £120bn under the coalition,” it observed. “We expect to see a plethora of new outsourcing deals … over the coming months now that the election is over and a secure government has been appointed.”

‘George Osborne has chosen local councils to take the biggest hit.’ 

The difference with true-blue Barnet, Thatcher’s backyard as MP, is that it elected to start on all this early in 2008, before the banks collapsed and the cuts began. Under the guise of encouraging open-market competition, it has handed over everything from school meals to cemetery upkeep to the private sector – mostly to the multibillion giant Capita. All of which makes John Burgess the advance guard for the rest of us.

Already other Tory councillors are looking at Barnet as the model for how they should outsource their services. How he fights this, the arguments he deploys and the tactics he uses, will help set the template for all the other fights to come.



I’ve written here before about Barnet and its role as the test lab for the rest of the public sector, with its key executives skipping off to run other councils. But what’s always struck me has been the sheer attack Burgess has brought to this most vital of campaigns. The armoury of contemporary trade unionism is sadly limited: a petition, some lobbying of dignatories, a lacklustre march, a strike, some variety of defeat. That’s not been Burgess’s way.

First, he sent local councillors briefings on the problems of outsourcing – every Friday for 20 weeks. Then he began working with academics and experts to produce detailed reports picking apart the financial illogic of the contracts. When the outsourced care service, Your Choice Barnet, had to be bailed out with public money it was like seeing their predictions made flesh.

To lose our libraries would be a national disaster – we must act to save them

So far, so ballsy. But the other thing Burgess has done is turn what could be merely an industrial dispute into a social movement. So there have been rock concerts against the cuts, and events with Russell Brand. Short cartoon films have filled in residents on what would happen once their services disappeared into the maws of Capita. He’s collaborated with bloggers and local non-union activist groups. And he’s done all of this in the face of a weak local Labour opposition and lukewarm support from his own union. “John’s become the real opposition in the borough,” says local blogger Mrs Angry.


I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard or read about what trade unions and leftwingers should do across the country in this hostile climate. Columnists call for unions to engage with civil society, while Burgess gets on and organises marches to save local libraries that pull together Tories with former coal-miners from his birthplace of County Durham. Pundits demand unions work together, while he just works with PCS and Unite on local initiatives. Academics write about social-movement unionism, and he joins with local housing campaigns against social cleansing in Barnet on the grounds that “our members live here too”.

He does all this – and he’s also a carer to his mother, who has dementia. Sometimes, while planning the next action, he’s been summoned by panicky hospital staff to travel north and make sure everything’s OK. Then he comes back and just keeps on going.

If we are to save what’s left of the public sector from an acid bath of giant profiteers, user charges and historic cuts, we’ll need a lot more John Burgesses. I just hope we’ve got them.


A Meeting of the Movements


Barnet TUC and the Barnet Alliance for Public Services participated in the annual general meeting of the Peoples Assembly Against Austerity on Saturday, just two of many delegations to the largest anti-cuts conference of the year. 2015 has not been an easy year, but it has been one in which the need for and effectiveness of the Peoples Assembly has been thoroughly proved.

Before the motions and the debates, there were introductory speeches. The first up was Dave Ward, new General Secretary of the CWU postal and communications union. He began by urging delegates to view the massive Tory U-turn on tax credit cuts as a big win for our movement, but also cautioned that there are four and half years left of the Tory government which in his own words had created a situation “the rich have never found an easier race to the top, the rest have never had a harder race to the bottom”. Ward also condemned the decision for Britain to join the Western bombing of Syria, which he likened to a head down charge. He described his ideas for what to do as both redesigning the fundamentals of the trade union movement for the modern economy, and also supporting the revitalised Labour Party under its new leadership. His vision for a new way to do things in the labour movement is to get sectoral, rather than localised, organisation and negotiation, mobilising as much of the trade unions’ six million members as possible.

The next speaker was Yannis Gourtsoyannis, a junior doctor and member of the British Medical Association junior doctors’ committee, with a report on the historically unprecedented industrial struggle they have been engaged in. The government has partially backed off imposing new employment conditions on junior doctors, causing the BMA to call off the planned, and potentially massive, strike on December 1st, but Dr Gourtsoyannis said that the proposals would still expand hours and pay differentiation among them under the guise of providing “cost neutral” expanded 7-day services (it strongly reminded me of the attempt to get London Underground workers to provide Night Tube services without costing any extra money). The young doctor emphasised that what at stake was not just the conditions of the staff and the safety of service users, but that if the doctors win they will have forced a crack in the edifice of austerity ideology. The struggle continues.

The third speaker was Christine Blower, leader of the National Union of Teachers. She focused her speech on the NUT’s firm belief in the power of social movement trades unionism, and said that the spirit of linking labour organisation to a wider political movement was had enabled successes such as the excellent June 20th demonstration this Summer. Blower gave the meeting some examples of the hardships that her teacher members were seeing amongst children in Cameron’s Britain: encountering children who only eat their free school meals because they are not fed at home, and entire cohorts of children at school that disappear as their parents take them away fleeing sky-high urban rents.

Following the opening speakers, a range of policy motions were debated and agreed upon (see the People’s Assembly website for these). BTUC and BAPS jointly moved a motion motion urging all member bodies to actively campaign to make all their local authorities into TTIP-free zones. The AGM unanimously agreed to get its local groups to raise petitions and bring motions to local and regional legislative bodies to get them to defy this secretive and menacing deal. This strategy is a real opportunity to redress the fact that TTIP has been largely ignored in the British media, and to raise awareness of TTIP among the public. This has already been done extensively in France, Germany and Spain, as well as 19 British authorities including Conservative run North Somerset.

The main part of the day closed with a key-note speech by socialist Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, who received a rapturous welcome. McDonnell admitted that the mere eight weeks that have passed since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader have been a challenge, but that brave stands by the party are being vindicated. He praised the People’s Assembly as essential part of the new politics that Jeremy promised to deliver, and said that these new politics is delivering. Although Parliament did vote for war a majority of Labour MPs and Shadow Cabinet members did vote “No” on a free vote, something McDonnell said he wished the Tories had allowed (only 7 Tory MPs defied the whipped vote on Wednesday).

John proceeded with laying out his vision for Labour should be offering: democracy in the economy and a say for ordinary people at the top of public and private companies. This vision relies on a healthy trade union movement, and on this point McDonnell reaffirmed total opposition to anti-union laws and supported the words of the leader of Britain’s biggest union, Len McCluskey of Unite, when he said that if stepping outside the law was necessary to protect the movement, it will have to be done. He praised the words of the comedian, and big Assembly supporter, Francesca Martinez, when she said that really was something fundamentally wrong with society being obsessed with GDP as a measure of success. He said that it was all part of a distorted narrative that exists in the country, the same one that has lied and rubbished Labour endlessly (and rather stupidly in the wake of an excellent by-election result in Oldham this week). He strongly encouraged the audience to make more use of new and social media, as a response to the problems our movement faces getting a fair hearing in the mass media. In his concluding words, he said that the vote for war had been a terrible step backwards in foreign policy, taking us further away from Britain working for peace and back toward Britain acting as an aggressor. He said of Hilary Benn’s pro-war speech: “It was great oratory, but some of the greatest oratory of the past has lead to some of the greatest mistakes.”. He said that he was still determined to fight for a political solution and, even more than this, to get justice for the refugees fleeing war in their millions. “Hope” he said “is back in our political system.”

This lead us well into the final session, which had been added to the agenda in response to the bombing of Syria. The People’s Assembly affirmed opposition to war, and to help to build the Stop the War Coalition march on the following Saturday (12th of December) and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament demonstration on February 27th 2016.

Want Revenge on IDS but not able to travel to Manchester in October? Help sponsor an activist who can » DPAC


Want Revenge on IDS but not able to travel? Help sponsor an activist who can

The Conservative Party Conference is taking place at Manchester in October.  DPAC are organising two protests on Monday 5th and Wednesday 7th October during the week of the Tory party conference actions, and would like to support as many DPAC members to come to Manchester and attend our demonstrations, the details of the actions can be found here   and there is a day of planning Tory protest workshops to prepare for the DPAC actions taking place in Manchester on Saturday 12th September


Many of our members need additional support in order to travel and take part in a protest. The coaches being supplied by the Peoples’ Assembly for travel to Manchester are not accessible for many disabled people, and accessible coaches are incredibly expensive and have space for one wheelchair user.


Many of our disabled members will not be able to access the church hall that has been provided for the week of actions during the Tory Party Conference by the Peoples Assembly as it will not be adapted to meet disabled people’s access needs, and many of our members will require accessible hotel accommodation with facilities adapted for wheelchair users and others.


DPAC meet members travel costs when travelling to a DPAC protest so that as many disabled people who wish to travel to participate in our protests are able to do so.   We have £2,000 put aside to assist with travel and hotel accommodation, but this will only assist 10-12 disabled people to get to Manchester.   We need your support with a donation to help us support as many disabled people travel to Manchester and take part in the DPAC action themed IDS Wanted for Crimes Against Disabled People on Monday 5th October.


Would you be able to make a donation and support getting DPAC to Manchester?

You can Donate via Paypal using the button below, send a cheque made payable to DPAC, or arrange a BACS transfer. Please for details of the last two options

Want Revenge on IDS but not able to travel? Help sponsor an activist who can

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