GMB Addresses Accusation of ‘Lying’ By Sheffield City Council

7 Sep 2010

“Dear Colleague, 

I felt that I must write to all of our members in Sheffield City Council with regard to what we are no doubt facing on the horizon with cuts to public sector funding and the current pay and grading appeals process. I have recently been accused by the council of scare mongering and even lying so I will set out our understanding and position as follows:

The trade unions are, as you would expect, running anti cuts campaigns throughout the country and you will have no doubt seen some of that campaigning in the media. This will, I am sure, build as we go into the autumn and the effects of the cuts become a reality. I need to assure you that the GMB are fully committed to consulting and negotiating with the council to make sure that we safe guard as many jobs as possible in Sheffield over the coming period. The real savings that the council will be aiming for are not entirely clear yet but the figure of £219 million over four years has been in the public domain and debated in the council for some weeks now. Paul Scriven (Lib Dem Leader of the council) wrote to me as far back as May and intimated that he was looking at savings of around £50 million a year over the next four years. We are however all waiting for the government’s announcements in the autumn which should finally give us precise cuts in figures that Sheffield City Council will be forced to address. It is because these announcements have not yet been made that the council are estimating the cuts but we have to work with the information that we have.

The council have already tabled some ideas with regard to cost savings and the work-force will no doubt be talking about various things that they may have heard.
• Reductions in the Sick Pay Scheme.
• A freeze to incremental increases, possibly with a 2 year review.
• A Voluntary reduced hours Scheme.
• A Voluntary Career Break Scheme.
• A Voluntary Annual Leave Purchase Scheme.
• A revised Voluntary Retirement Scheme.
• Voluntary Severance.
These are the main proposals that the council would like to discuss with us but it is notable that the incremental freeze would have the biggest and most immediate detrimental impact for most employees. Obviously we will have to examine our legal position to this proposal as well as the strength of opposition that our members may have. The council’s objective of pay and grading was to make sure that the new pay structure was fair and equitable and that it addressed all discrimination. How the council can now freeze all incremental increases and claim to have achieved that is incomprehensible.

Another immediate concern other than the finer detail of these proposals is the effect that any of this would have on your pension scheme and, should it come to it, any final redundancy payments if workers decided to apply for any of the voluntary options. How this will work in practice and what payments will be made are part of the negotiations with the council.

I suppose I should make some reference to the recent accusations levelled at me in the media with regard to our concerns over all this and the way the information is being released. We were told that employees would receive the above proposals and that the incremental increase freeze was not up for negotiation. We objected as we’d only had the information for one week ourselves and no formal processes were in place to examine this. Regardless, as a result of that recent disagreement I am pleased to say that we have since met with the council and all of the above proposals are now exactly that, proposals. Furthermore we have been told that we will be given more detailed information with regards to how any and all of these proposals would have a positive impact on jobs. We cannot, for example, consider any sacrifices that impact on your terms and conditions if the money that this would then save the council went towards financing an out-sourcing package enabling more public services to go out to the private sector.

Along with the other trade unions, we will also be pursuing formal consultation on all and any of the above proposals. I should also add that I was accused of lying when I said that Paul Scriven never meets with the trade unions himself and delegates all responsibility to council officers. I admit this was a slight exaggeration, I have been in post for two and a half years and we have met once, our conveners have never met him. 

There is a view that your union should not enter into discussion with regard to any changes to your terms and conditions but our overriding priority will always be to safeguard jobs in the face of cuts and to this end we believe we have a duty to discuss any and all proposals or ideas that the council may have. Indeed we will no doubt have ideas of our own and unless we are at the negotiating table the size of the cuts and the subsequent job losses thereafter can only be worse. Regardless of whatever happens in the coming months please be assured that we will not agree to any proposals without full consultation with our members and any and all offers will be put to GMB members through the formal ballot process. We will focus entirely on safeguarding jobs and our members’ terms and conditions.

The stage 2 appeals are now underway and as expected our reps and convenors are inundated with the amount of appeal meetings and the intensity of the schedule. Appeals are running from 6th September every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the foreseeable future. Both trade union members and non members will be at the same appeal.

Each appeal panel will consist of 2 x trade union rep/convenors and 2 x SCC management. There are going to be 2 panels sitting each day, morning and afternoon. As well as finding reps or convenors available for the panels we will of course have to make sure that those members presenting their appeals are supported by a rep/convenor. We are deploying our reps and convenors in response to the detailed spread sheets that the council provide us with but these are constantly subject to change due to cancellations etc.

We will continue to run pay and grading surgeries on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons every week in our Sheffield Office so please book an appointment and come along to discuss your case with one of our convenors if you have not already done so. There will no doubt be occasions when something goes wrong and members are faced with going into an appeal without trade union representation. If this is the case you should contact the GMB Office or the appropriate convenor to tell us. You can cancel your meeting so that we can find out what has gone wrong and arrange support because in theory we should be aware of every meeting where a GMB member is involved in accordance with the system that the council are using. 

I have attached a ‘contact details’ form in case your circumstances have changed since the last time we did this. If you believe we may not have your correct address, e-mail, telephone or employment details please compete and return this in the pre-paid envelope so that we can up-date our data base. This will also help us to communicate to you via e-mail which is not only more cost effective, its also far more efficient and often members who are on our I.T. data base get more and a wider variety of information.

I hope that this information is helpful to you and please let me thank you for your support to date and assure you that we will continue to act in the best interests of our members during these testing times.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Davies
(GMB Organiser – Sheffield)”