Morale within Hastings Borough Council (HBC) is at its lowest level ever according to UNISON – the union that represents staff there.
Tomorrow night (Wednesday) the council will officially set its budget for the coming year. It’s a budget that calls for cuts in the number of staff and increases in charges for many of the services that the council provides and it’s a budget that the union feels is making cuts in an ad-hoc way with no thought for a strategic plan for the future shape of the council and its staff.
Local UNISON officials were consulted on the council’s proposed budget and have come back with a report that is critical of the council in a number of areas. That document will be presented to councillors before they make their final decision. The union says it is concerned that there is, “no long term plan for council services”.
The document that contains UNISON’s official response to the budget proposals says: “The current proposals have been described as piecemeal by staff and we have to agree. Simply cutting budgets without a major reconfiguration of what services the council will or will not undertake in future only results in us doing the same work with fewer resources. We cannot continue to do more for less. This will, in our view, result in poorer service provision.”
At tomorrow night’s meeting the budget being proposed is expected to be approved as Labour’s 23 members plus Councillor Dany Louise, now sitting as an independent, vote in favour while the eight Conservative councillors oppose the plan. Leader of the Conservative group, Councillor Rob Lee, is expected to propose an alternative budget demonstrating how HBC could balance its budget without dipping in to reserves.
However the budget being proposed by the ruling Labour group will, according to UNISON, see staff being asked to undertake more work with fewer resources which the union says will, “lead to increased stress and dissatisfaction with staff being increasingly demoralised about the amount of work to do and the lack of support in coping with this ever increasing workload.”
“UNISON recognise that in this time of austerity reduced budgets are difficult to set and we recommend that we work together on a long term plan for the council’s future service provision in order staff can understand where we are heading and have adequate time to plan. Continuing to reduce individual budgets is unsustainable and disproportionally hits front line services,” says the UNISON document that will go before councillor tomorrow.
It goes on to say that the union recognises the council will ‘look and feel differently in the future’ and says there should be strategic planning already going on to consider the long term and therefore ensuring ‘effective service provision and staff support’.
“We therefore urge the administration to act now to stop continuing ad-hoc reductions and develop a sustainable plan for public services for the future,” says UNISON.
UNISON highlights two areas where it feels proposed cuts are inappropriate: “We take pride in the fact that we are regular recipients of the Blue Flag Award, it directly has an impact on tourism in the town. The application for this national award is drawn up by one of the posts that is identified as a post to be made redundant, what will happen if there is no Blue Flag award and if beach huts fall into disrepair?”
It is also concerned about the cost of bringing street cleansing back in-house, saying: “We find this cost difficult to understand when we have to find significant savings over the next few years.
“The process of bringing (the street cleaning service) back in-house… might give a higher standard of service but how can the expenditure at this time be justified when posts and other services are being cut?”
UNISON says that HBC is prioritising a quicker turn around for litter picking over public safety because it is proposing to reduce the CCTV service: “We feel that visitors to the town will be more influenced by crime rates rather than response times for street cleaning.
“Recently our CCTV staff were commended by the police and Members for their contribution above and beyond to assist in arrests and helping to apprehend offenders,” the union points out.
Councillors will be told that UNISON feels unable to ‘adequately explain to our members’ the justification for the current course of action proposed by HBC.
“The threat of additional staffing reduction next year does not follow a strategic approach to providing services. We urge the administration to engage with staff representatives and managers on how we can shape our council to provide services to our community while safeguarding as many jobs as possible.”
The UNISON document concludes by saying that local people are becoming increasingly unhappy about the council’s actions: “One of this authorities’ strengths is working in close partnership to best support the local residents and visitors. Partners are reacting negatively when told that we do not feel these areas are important enough to have the support of HBC.”
But it’s final comment is perhaps the most damning: “The lack of communication and meaningful engagement has led to feelings of being underrated, and combined with the numbers of staff affected directly and indirectly to reduction in teams has led to the lowest level of moral that I have experienced at HBC.”