Category Archives: Local Government Conference

Save and support library and cultural services

UNISON Local Government Conference 2018

UNISON will take its campaign to save and support library and cultural services to our politicians, our members and our communities, highlighting the importance of these services to our communities. The campaign will look for branches to lobby their politicians, encourage their members and their communities to use the libraries and other cultural services such as museums and public parks, and to get their councils to sign up to a new cultural charter.

Margaret Gallacher moved the South Lanarkshire motion, explaining how important a role libraries and librarians play in this modern age helping us to filter the information overload and to help develop our critical thinking, “Perhaps if librarians were called information officers people would understand their role better and therefore understand their importance.”

“We need libraries and librarians to help us pick our way through fake news and misinformation. Libraries also play an important part in raising literacy. They are trusted spaces, open to all, where we can explore reading, share information and deepen our knowledge of the world. Libraries enable equal reading and learning opportunities.”

Margaret told us that museums too are inclusive community spaces.”Without museums we lose tangible links to the past. They give us enlightenment and entertainment, social cohesion, and tourism. They boost our mental health and wellbeing. They nurture talent and creativity. They give us less anti-social behaviour, more empathy and understanding and a pride in our heritage and surroundings.“

She explained that open spaces improve our quality of life by lifting our spirits, giving us “healthy habitats for humans, wildlife and plants. Every tree reducing air pollution and the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and helping cool cities. Resulting in better general health, reduced stress, and reduced depression.”

Margaret slammed closures in libraries, museums and other cultural facilities in some authorities, and drastically reduced staffing in most other authorities with more lone working, more casual staff and zero hours and volunteers, “To get quality services you need specialised staff but many cultural venues are now in arms length organisations and trusts where the emphasis is on income generation and where services are more likely to be run by casual staff or volunteers.”

Margaret quoted well known author and staunch supporter of libraries, Neil Gaiman, “Libraries really are the gates to the future. It is unfortunate that round the world we observe local authorities seizing the opportunity to close libraries as an easy way to save money, without realising that they are stealing from the future to pay for today. They are closing the gates that should be open.  A world without libraries and culture would be an impoverished one,”

Need for mental health action plans as cuts bring pressures

Local Government Conference

UNISON called for a strategy to combat mental health issues in the workplace arising as a result of increasing workloads and other workplace pressures faced as a consequence of UK Government austerity cuts and the brutal financial cuts to local government.This strategy will call for local government employers to ensure effective workload management schemes, suitable stress risk assessments, mental health action plans and policies are in place in consultation with branches.

At the same time, UNISON will continue to fight austerity, and to campaign, pressurise and lobby both Scottish and Westminster governments for more funding in local government, to help support the mental health and wellbeing of the workforce.

Scott Donohoe, Scottish Regional Representative, moving Composite B, Mental Health and Workloads, slammed the intolerable increase in workloads, and pointed out that staffing levels are cut to the bone and morale is rock bottom.

Scott explained, “The HSE figures for 2016/17 show 1.3 million workers suffered ill health at work, 526,000 cases of stress, anxiety or mental health, and 9.9 million

working days lost and a cost to society of over £14billion. A recent report from Lancaster University on the scourge of Presenteeism [attending work whilst sick]costs £15.1billion annually, so more than sickness absence.”

He underlined some of the cuts in local government in Scotland, announcements of £133 million over two years with another round of job cuts for Glasgow , and £160 million over four years  for Edinburgh and moreover East Dunbartonshire’s 90% plus vote for strike action in response to another brutal attack on terms and conditions and trade union facility time.

Scott continued, “The decimation of our members’ jobs across Scotland is an absolute scandal and must be resisted with all means at our disposal. Members are facing increased work demands due to cuts in the local authority workforce across the country. The demands on public services are also increasing due to the consequence of the economic crisis just as the workforce decreases.”

“ In addition our members often come under pressure to adopt new cost-cutting working practices under the guise of modernisation, service reform, or transformation, which have little or nothing to do with improving services to the Scottish people. Many members are coming under pressure to carry out paid and unpaid overtime.”

Scott highlighted Glasgow City’s NO to Overwork campaign that has been challenging excessive workloads for a number of years. He also recognised the great work branches were doing across the UK. “We must step up our efforts and continue to support our members and activis against the austerity agenda. Supporting our members and actvists both collectively and individually to say “No! Enough is enough”

Tony Slaven, South Lanarkshire Branch, seconding the Composite, “ How about this for a simple message? Years of austerity and cuts in

council budgets means cuts in staffing levels, increase in workloads, attacks on terms and conditions, constant restructures. It’s dead simple. All increase poor mental health. Such as anxiety, stress, and depression for our members.”

“As reps, we are seeing and dealing with more grievances, absences, and capability procedures. There are local authorities that recognise the growing problem of poor mental health in the workplace only to find austerity and the cuts are relentless.”

Tony applauded branches that have managed to negotiate and establish mental health and well-being policies in the workplace, however, he cautioned, “These policies may look good sitting unopened in the Director’s office – but that is not where they belong – they need to be working for all of us on the front line – where they must actually be applied.”

“My local authority produced a document on Mental Health where they failed to mention workload – when challenged they said they didn’t think that this was an issue –this is what we are fighting against.”