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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Now back

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last week, I really needed to recharge my batteries in the run-up to the Assembly elections and so took a half term break.

This means of course that I now have to deal with a mountain of paperwork, hundreds of e-mails and quite a few matters of interest to look into that have arisen over the past week and which I may wish to take up in the chamber,

Whilst I was away I was reselected as top of the South Wales West list and now face a tough challenge to hold my seat. I have started planning and fundraising already and the first team meeting for the region is scheduled next week.

I will most probably blog more fulsomely tomorrow but in the meantime I thought it worth while drawing attention to this news item which is causing Labour some angst. Rhondda Cynon Taf Council appear to have followed Neath Port Talbot Council in unilaterally changing the terms and conditions of their employees as part of the savings they need to make for future years.

All Councils face these pressures of course, despite Labour in Swansea pretending otherwise. All Councils are also reviewing what they get for ratepayers money from their work force. So far however, the only Councils to resort to laying off staff in this way, so as to re-employ them on lesser terms and conditions are Labour-run authorities. Others are negotiating change.

Given that the Coalition Government cuts have not yet kicked in, this is a double whammy for Labour. Not only are they demonstrating the impact of their own economic mismanagement on public services but they are doing so with all the finesse of Fred Flintstone.

When Labour politicians accuse Liberal Democrats of being Tories they should look first to their own record. We have moderated Tory extremes and introduced liberal policies and principles into government. Labour not only acted illiberally when they ran the UK but they are continuing to do so in local Councils as well.

It may well be that non-Labour Councils have to take similar action to Rhondda Cynon Taf and no doubt if one of those Councils is Liberal Democrat-led then I will be forced to eat my words, but all the evidence so far is that Liberal Democrat-run Councils are holding back from such action as a last resort. Labour have taken a different approach.
Email from the Chief Executive‏
Chief Executive
To Councillors (All)
From: Chief Executive
Sent: 29 October 2010 11:26:56
To: Councillors (All) (CouncillorsAll@rhondda-cynon-taff.gov.uk)

Please find below for your information, an email from myself, which is being sent out today to all staff and schools.


Dear Colleague,

There has been an incredible amount of misinformation in the media over the last twenty four hours, in relation to the Council’s proposal to address the impending cuts to public sector funding.

In the letter I sent you on the 14th October, I stressed that Full Council had set an overriding objective of protecting services and jobs.

The Trade Unions were invited to engage with the Council to explore the options for dealing with the reductions in funding we are set to face, as a result of the UK Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). We were, therefore, extremely disappointed when the GMB Union walked away from these discussions at such an early and sensitive stage in proceedings and decided to conduct their negotiations through the media.

As a result of the CSR, the Council is likely to face a funding shortfall of around £60M over the next three years. It is envisaged that by reviewing the terms and conditions of employees, we will be able to avoid the need for compulsory redundancies and in turn, protect hundreds of local jobs within the Council. This remains our paramount objective.

Let me clarify the reasons for issuing the Section 188 letter, to which the media and the GMB have referred. The reason for issuing this letter to the Trade Unions, was to formally start the process of consulting with them about the proposed changes to terms and conditions of employment. The letter sets out some of the reasons why the Council has to look at these issues and also the proposed changes to terms and conditions upon which the Council would like to consult with the Trade Unions.

The letter also meets a legal requirement that the Council must comply with as part of the consultation process. The Council believes that by implementing changes to terms and conditions, significant savings can be achieved, which might otherwise have to be achieved by compulsory job losses.

I reiterate that the section 188 letter to the Trade Unions, does not mean that there will be compulsory job losses as a consequence of the proposed changes to terms and conditions of employment. Indeed, the object of this exercise is to reduce compulsory job losses wherever possible.

While I fully appreciate that this is an unsettling time for all concerned, I hope that we will now be able to engage in meaningful discussions with the all Trade unions, including the GMB, to move forward in the best interests of the Council and you as employees.

Your sincerely,

K. Griffiths

Keith Griffiths

Chief Executive
We needed a break from you as well...and we enjoyed it!!
"Whilst I was away I was reselected as top of the South Wales West list..."

Well I missed you Peter as did many others I know. May you long continue as one of our most able AMs
Peter as with many issues its not as simple as some trade unionists and some Plaid activists who are adopting the Dave Spart approach to industrial relations suggest. Perhaps you should ask yourself why the GMB walked out and not Unison? Might it be because the GMB tends to represent male workers who are often able as equal pay cases illustrate exploit bonus and shift schemes to increase their wages often on a permanant basis? In RCT,for example, the previous Plaid regime signed an agreement which allows leisure staff whose 5 day week includes a Saturday and a Sunday to be paid time and half on a Saturday and double time on a Sunday. They even receive this if they are on the sick. These bonus schemes which were often designed without the knowledge of councillors. I understand that it is costing the authority £800,000 a year. In my own former authority I saw someone picking up litter at 6 am on a Sunday as I drove to the studio in Cardiff. This was in an area with hardly any litter. But it probably gave the worker another day's pay for perhaps 4 hours work. It's the norm to see non essential work being carried out on a Sunday. In the present economic climate these schemes are unsustainable. All RCT is trying to do in an area where there will be very few alternative private sector jobs is to reduce the need to make people redundant which will happen if the unions do not adopt a more realistic attitude.

Unfortunately too many politicians particularly in the Assembly are still giving the impression that the cuts will not hurt and that it can all be achieved through effiency savings and collaboration. Perhaps they should go to Companies House and look at the accounts of Southwest One the organisation set up by Somerset CC, one of its district councils and the Police Authority together with IBM to run back of office functions such as IT and HR. For the second year running it has made a loss. In the first year the loss was £2 million and in the second year £16 million. The potential savings have also now be down graded from over £220 million to £144 million. Luckily for the Councils the losses are being covered by IBM. The problem with collaboration as any management consultant will tell you is that it often requires like any transformation agenda a great deal of upfront expenditure, the savings take years to materalise and you have to rely on dreaded new IT systems which as past history shows often don't deliver what's on the tin.

Everyone including councillors and unions involved in local government have to realise that the CSR which set out cuts over 26% for local government requires some tough choices to be made. Sensible trade unionists should start again to read the work of Jim Tomlinson who in the 1980s argued that trade unions should adopt a pre emtive approach to cuts rather than the normal reactive street theatre protest approach. Trade Unionists should know where the savings can be made and they should be working with management rather than walking out. If you walk out then all that will happen is that mangement in the present climate will be forced to implement their proposals.
I suspect that UNISON & GMB believe they can pressurise Labour run councils into a rethink by bad publicity tactics. Such tactics are not worth the effort elsewhere.
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