Tag Archives: Libraries

Rotten Comrades: Ethical Care Charter, Libraries and the Sirona Strike

by The Dwarf

A nice little bonus for Bristol’s overworked home care workers was unveiled last week to absolutely no fanfare whatsoever. A commitment to spend some new money on extra wages, matching and eventually exceeding the Living Wage, was followed up by a commitment to meeting other aspects of the ethical care charter such as paying staff travelling between clients.

When I mentioned this at home, Mrs Dwarf pointed out that it was funny how the Mayor could find a bit of money when he wanted to. After all, he found a few quid to keep the libraries open as well. Am I looking a gift horse in the mouth, I wondered aloud? Am I being a bit churlish treating this with my customary scepticism? Well, she snorted at this and started going on about privatisation, all the while pointing angrily at me with a rolled up copy of the Morning Star. She’s a bit more militant than me.

Finding a few quid down the back of the sofa to keep the libraries and home care going can only be a good thing if you forget it didn’t need to be this bad in the first place. But when you realise the problems are caused by privatisation and outsourcing, it becomes only a sticking plaster. Home care nationally only has a problem at all because it has been nearly all outsourced to private organisations.

Those teams that still belong to councils spend enough time with the old and disabled to help with disabilities, with personal care, help a little around the house and even have a little chat. It’s called dignity. And it’s called democratic control and oversight. I have seen work schedules for the private sector where as little as fifteen minutes is spent with the client and not enough time is given to travel to the next client, which is a sore temptation to shave a little of what little time there is with them.

Part of the announcement was that Unison, Bristol’s most hapless union, was involved in all this. I couldn’t believe the Chuckle Siblings had it in them to actually achieve a pay rise for someone. But then I noticed that it was a national campaign – the Ethical Care Charter – which isn’t all that bad a campaign and therefore nothing Bristol’s button-hole water-squirting brigade can screw up. I’m told they didn’t bother to tell anyone with a spinning tie they were doing this, which either just about sums up the secretive little cabal the union has become or that head office has just given up on them.

Needless to say no one sent an email out telling the members or put it on the website or anything like exploiting it for organising or recruitment purposes. At least I haven’t seen anything and neither have my little spies. Unison was also described as the union for care workers, which I can assure you was quite a surprise for Unite who had recruited nearly all of home care when Unison stopped talking to, thinking of, and involving them, several years ago.

So, my message to the Council (and the unions) is to bring home care back in-house if you really want to solve home care’s problems. And, it goes without saying, don’t privatise or outsource the libraries. The same sort of debacle is just as foreseeable with the library service as it was with home care.

While we’re on private provision of care, Unison members in Sirona in Bath are in an industrial dispute. I would like to wish them all the best in their fight and remind them to control their own struggle if they possibly can. If you see anyone coming towards you with a Unison badge, a flashing red nose, a car horn, and trying to tell you black is white: tell them to jog on.

 

Soft Privatisation of Libraries

Overhearing a conversation about mutualisation, I realised the people three desks down were talking about our libraries. A possible staff buyout (or buy-in or spin-out, or something) was mooted. “A stalking horse for outsourcers,” one of them said. As well as the confusing possibility of another council running our libraries, as if we have lost the energy to run our own affairs. So I popped off and had a look on my phone to see if I could find anything published online that would go into more detail. A report had been published (apparently in March) but I hadn’t seen anything, and I had been looking.

Anyway, there is not much good news in the report. It is essentially a list of options with recommendations, though there is an in-house option (with ‘re-engineering’), and we can at least catch a glimpse of how our technocratic overseers see the world so we can have some idea what to expect. The report said March 2018 but the staff have not been allowed copies (up until very recently), and quite frankly the document is turgid and unapproachable. I don’t expect many people will reach the last of the sixty pages, but doom-laden rumours are flying thick and fast among librarians and library assistants.

It seems the preferred option is a PSM, or Public Service Mutual. There is much talk over whether it will have charitable or non-charitable status, but regardless, it is easier to think of the thing as a sort of charity. If this option passes, our library staff would no longer be council employees but would be transferred to what is a bit like a charity. They will retain their pay, terms and conditions. But the report cheerfully informs us that terms and conditions can be changed post-transfer by a consultation process.

Entertainingly, the report mentions twenty five times that a mutual (and another option, a joint venture) could save on business rates by achieving charitable status, in fact it is significant to how well the options are recommended:

“This option is forecast to realise operating surpluses each year over the 5 year period. The viability of the option is however heavily predicated on the assumption that the service would realise savings through 80% mandatory National Non-Domestic Rate (NNDR) relief. Should the service not benefit from this saving, it is forecast to incur operating losses during the first two years post-establishment”

Does this mean that the council would save money by, er… receiving less money from rates?

Now, I know I’m going to get comments telling me I’m a dullard who doesn’t understand tax law. But the fact remains that these options are attractive because they pay less tax. Or might do if they get charity status… If.

The rate relief is an option for two of the proposed options: mutual and joint venture. Regardless of the irony of such savings, failing to achieve charitable status, which is not at all certain, the report goes on to say:

“Such a situation obviously brings the viability of either option into question.”

And also:

“The scoring of the PSM (charity) and joint venture (charity) options is informed by the assumption that the new model would benefit from NNDR. Charitable status should not be automatically assumed, given the complexity of the application process and the strict criteria that any applicant is required to meet.”

It was late last year that full council agreed, with cross party support, to look at mutualisation. Of course, the right wing of the Labour party have been pointing out that that vote was not binding, but they did find it difficult to contain their glee at the interesting possibilities. After all, the mayor can pose the question: the people of Bristol have spoken through their representatives, who am I to get in the way of democracy? Privatisation or a spin off of Bristol libraries could then be blamed on everybody and not just him.

Likewise, if there is an effective wave of protest, the elected mayor can then point out that that is the point of having an elected mayor, to overturn the narrow interests of ward councillors and consider the needs of the entire city. This will make himself appear like he is listening. Win win, I would say.

The report is here: https://www.bristol.gov.uk/documents/20182/34300/Options+appraisal+for+a+future+library+service+in+Bristol+2018/a572f11b-9cda-d369-2f0c-c0c209a4f0e9

UNISON: THE SORRY STATE by The Dwarf

Despite being the union that campaigned for an end to tribunal fees and won. Despite being the union that strikes for hospital workers, wins equal pay claims for cleaners and tries to prevent the outsourcing of care workers everywhere except Bristol. Despite having nearly all the cuts in this round of austerity aimed at those areas only they really have members in – Bristol Unison still refuse to do anything to oppose the cuts. That is, unless Mayor Marvin asks them to go on a demonstration against his own cuts. In which case out comes the banner in what could only be described as a giant blow struck for irony.

The cuts are coming in social services, children’s services, libraries and community services. All areas that are almost exclusively Unison and all are areas where member engagement, information exchange and political activism are non-existent. Meetings with unions have been cancelled, barrack room lawyers silenced in staff meetings, management have denied a plan to outsource libraries but then put out an email about mutualisation.

Does anyone remember the battles of the past? When disabled residents and unions lobbied noisily on the ramps of the Counts Louse? Where day centres were occupied and workers broke the blockade passing them fish and chips through the windows? Where library workers struck for the right to a family life? Where have the activists gone? I’m reliably informed that Unison hasn’t enough activists to fill a Renault Espace when they once numbered in the hundreds. They’re voting with their feet comrades … Wake up and get a grip.

I was told that regional officers consider the cuts to have been democratically arrived at and that is that, nothing more can be done. We at The BRISTOLIAN reject that sort of democracy. We want an engaged, participatory democracy of mutual solidarity and so should the unions. If we don’t get it then protest and actions must rightfully take place.

But here we come to the nub of the matter and that is the risk social and industrial agitation poses to the electoral prospects of the Labour Party. Occupying day centres and striking for work-life balance is OK as long as the Liberal Democrats or an Independent is in charge but not when it’s Labour.

Last year there was a scandal at Unison’s AGM as to whether Unison should affiliate to the anti-cuts groups – a no-brainer in anyone’s world assolidarity with people against the cuts should be ingrained. A self-appointed standing orders committee, which no one knew existed because it didn’t, ruled the motion incompetent. This year, the union’s members ruled their own representatives’ incompetent over a scandalous redundancy pay cut ballot stitch-up. And this was in front of a firebrand assistant general secretary, from head office, who was so embarrassed he didn’t know where to look.

Sorry, Roger McKenzie, that you had to see the union in such a sorry state.

“MAKE BRISTOL SHIT AGAIN”

Those of you who’ve spotted these stickers around our fair city, are probably wondering what this is all about. Well rumour has it that it’s the new initiative from the Right Asshole Reverend Marvin Rees …

Following his ingenious idea to get people to march against the cuts he’s making and even having the front to get up on a stage and complain – about himself we suppose? His next wheeze is to try to justify his cuts to libraries and our other public services. Is he trying to make Bristol shit again?

Some of us think Bristol is a grand old city and it’s only twats like Rees and his elitist mates that are shite. Because, now, our wonderful Mayor is going to make our more cuts, leading to homelessness, social services in freefall, no childcare places, parks in a mess, traffic jams, low wages – you won’t even be able to take your kids to the libraries any more. We could go on, but congrats to the Rev, his plans for our city really will make it shit.

Perhaps he’ll plan another march for the people of Bristol to celebrate just how shit he’s made it? He can lead a march of suicidal residents through the streets of Bristol and encourage boisterous chants of “what do we want?” – “more shit”; “when do we want it?” – “now!”

Meanwhile, our glorious leader, the Reverend Make-it-Shit is planning to spend £150k on a grand summit of Mayors from around the world just to rub his shit in our faces. We need to get busy and show these bastards that we want our city and our lives to have hope, with services and leisure facilities for all, not just for some canape crunching elitist mayors and their hangers-on hell bent on pissing on us.

To the fucking streets and rub their noses in the shit.

ROTTEN COMRADES

It’s all been kicking off amongst the council’s sleepy unions who appear to have been rudely awakened by problems that don’t seem to be solvable by business-as-usual toadying.

Showing a surprising turn of speed for reps normally found dozing with their heads up management’s arse, the council’s comrades have suddenly realised they themselves are facing the chop and have started some frantic, if clumsy, lobbying.

One council union, Unison, has discovered that the recently completed  public consultation proposes devastating cuts in areas where only it has members. Libraries and Community Links are supposed solidly Unison and have traditionally supplied the union with its (in-)”activists”.

Unison have belatedly woken up to the fact that they chose the path of least resistance when the Labour Party and council bosses were planning their latest cuts. While their opposite number, Unite, spent a lot of time lobbying the Mayor when he was first elected. Unison reps were reported to have said they didn’t see the point of lobbying anyone. Quelle Surprise, the latest cuts seem to have fallen disproportionately on them then.

This comes weeks after there was muted Unison laughter aimed at the GMB for fading so drastically in numbers that management were mumbling about de-recognition. Facing possible decimation in the coming restructures, Unison is no longer laughing. After all, with de-recognition comes going back to your regular job and actual work.

So, blowing dust off old copies of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist (which some real socialist left in a box, years ago), our rotten comrades have been frantically lobbying, campaigning, actually talking to members and – heaven forfend – threatening disputes! There is hope yet.

Rumours are that disputes are brewing in Reablement, Night Care and the Community Links. Meanwhile library workers have been warning darkly that their strike in 2016 supported by Marvin and Labour when they were seeking votes in the mayoral election was never resolved by Marvin once elected and as far as they know their original ballot is still live.

Mobs have been reported stalking the corridors of Temple Street looking for customer services managers. Even the city’s team managers are looking for an Arthur Scargill-type character to lead them out the gates due to overwork and stress.

Meanwhile, Unite has been seen cheering it all on, shouting ‘fight, fight, fight’ from the sidelines. Cheerful in the knowledge that someone’s going to get it and it’s certainly not going to be them.

-Cheerful Dwarf