At tonight’s Public Cabinet (Tue 17 Nov 2020), a devastating proposal to review the structure of almost the entire council with the aim of cutting 150+ jobs by April was agreed by councillors.

There are staff briefings scheduled for Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 November, which we encourage all council staff to attend, to hear more about this situation.

Financial background

UNISON were briefed by Bexley’s Director of Finance last Thursday and it’s clear that a big part of the financial problem here stems from the government’s broken promise to fully fund councils’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In March, minister Robert Jenrick pledged that councils should do whatever it took to support local people through the crisis and the government would cover the cost, but they have still not even come close to doing this, with dire financial consequences for councils all over the country, including Bexley.

Central government have also been withdrawing billions of pounds of funding from councils over the past decade, encouraging councils to find more commercial ways to raise money, and to use their reserves to tide them over while working up these new ways forward.

The pandemic is therefore the ‘perfect storm’ that the government has set councils up so badly for:

  • a genuine emergency of the kind reserves could be spent on if councils hadn’t needed to spend them already due to government cuts;
  • a huge hit to the economy meaning most commercial ways to raise money (e.g. charging more for leisure services or renting out office spaces) are no longer bringing in the necessary income;
  • and a pandemic that has cost millions to respond to which has not been paid back by government as promised.

Our initial response

At UNISON Bexley branch, our initial response to the redundancy proposals has been as follows:

  • To encourage senior leaders, managers and councillors to publicly call on the government to pay their promised Covid debts to councils, to help save jobs by bringing in more money
  • To question whether the council could borrow more money than is currently planned for in order to keep more people in jobs for longer
  • To make sure the council intends to properly resource the HR and legal departments to handle an unprecedented number of proposed redundancies properly, given the capacity issues we have already flagged up during previous consultations and the delays and uncertainty for our members that have resulted
  • To encourage the council to grant us a temporary boost in ‘facility time’ (the time our representatives are allowed to dedicate to union duties during their work time), to ensure all our members are able to get proper support from their union at such a difficult and distressing time for everyone concerned
  • To request much clearer communications around the exact timescales and processes that will be followed in order to give people more certainty about how the process will unfold.

On that note, after this week’s staff briefings we anticipate the next significant date will be 7 December, when the Public Cabinet papers for December are published with more details of initial thoughts on whereabouts in the council some of the job losses will be proposed.

We await further details of how the process will play out from there and look forward to hearing more about our initial responses above soon too.

Voluntary redundancies

UNISON always encourages councils to seek volunteers for redundancy rather than making people redundant who wish to stay at work, and we are therefore pleased to see that the council has set up a mailbox for people to email with enquiries about being made redundant voluntarily.

If you’re considering this, you can email the HR department at RedundancyEnqs@bexley.gov.uk – without any commitment to follow through, on either side.

Tell us both what your union can do you for you…

We’re very interested to understand more about what our members would like UNISON to do in response to these proposals, so that we can make sure we are representing your views in our dealings with HR and management around this subject, so please let us know what you think!

…and what you can do for your union!

Clearly as these proposals progress, there will be a huge number of restructures and reorganisations across the whole council, running in parallel.

To enable us as a union to engage fully with all of these in our members’ interests, we will need more members to help us out by becoming contacts in the affected areas of the council, to represent their colleagues’ views in the process.

If you’d like to get more involved in your UNISON branch, even if just on a temporary basis during this process, please email us!

We’re here to support you

And of course if you’d like any support with any proposed redundancies affecting your role, please get in touch with the branch or fill in our simple online case form to raise your issue with us.

Bexley staff can also read a B:HIVE post about the proposals with links to the staff briefings