John Stevenson: Job lost is service lost to citizens

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It would be a shame to be in conflict with the Edinburgh councillors who spoke out passionately last week against the government’s vindictive attack on individual freedoms and trade union rights.

But conflict looks inevitable as thousands of staff face losing their livelihoods with all that means for their families. As a union we have one key power to defend them – the strength of people standing together. If it comes to compulsory redundancies, we will urge our members to use that strength.

The council’s Labour/SNP coalition has to decide whether it stands by its pledges against compulsory redundancies and privatisation. We are not sure all their officials get those pledges otherwise redundancy and privatisation might not be on the agenda. We detect a culture that all too often imposes failed private sector solutions on public sector functions, making service delivery worse. Ask anyone who has had to phone some council services recently.

Unison produced evidence in 2011 showing that none of the comparators used to support privatisation saved money and some had to be brought back in-house at great cost. Privatisation does not work for services, it only works for companies and 
shareholders.

It certainly won’t work for the cleaners, catering, janitorial and other facilities management staff who face being sold off. Many are on the lowest pay rates and have just been offered a living wage that won’t be assured under privatisation. It is a disgrace that the lowest paid should have to pay for the cuts. Unison’s message remains: our city is still not for sale.

The £140 million crisis comes from Holyrood’s failure to back local services, its failure to tackle the council tax freeze, dragging its heels in developing a fairer alternative, and blocking a “tourist tax” to give Edinburgh something back for the investment that benefits so many businesses.

The Chancellor’s ideological cuts lie behind the problem. But Holyrood has choices and it has chosen to starve local government with 40,000 jobs lost since 2010.

These jobs are people. They are home carers, cleaners, janitors and trading standards officers. They deliver child protection, fostering and adoption, public health, cleansing, residential homes, housing, licensing, community safety, libraries and all the other things we often forget local councils provide.

Because these services have to be provided by people, a job lost is a service lost. Our members worry just as much about services as jobs. They care about the services they provide and, as citizens of Edinburgh, they also rely on those services.

The ones that are left behind are also worried. Their jobs become impossible as they are forced to do more and more with fewer resources. They get the anger from the public, not the politicians.

If we have to take action to defend them, we will take it. We would much rather stand shoulder to shoulder with a council that sticks to its pledges and back it in a concerted demand for the Scottish Government to act to defend our services.

John Stevenson is president of Unison’s City of Edinburgh Council branch