Cumbria county council has stipulated that it is going through a period of unprecedented change and needs to make significant budget reductions as a result of the Government’s austerity programme, which is designed to reduce spending and balance national debt.
In addition, the council has said that its current financial predictions show they will have to make a further £80million of savings between 2016/17 and 2018/19 to balance their budget each year.
The council released their ‘Securing your future’ (Public Consultation on draft Council Plan and budget) in Autumn 2015. Elements within the publicly available Plan describe how the council will balance their budget. Reshaping the council, changing how the council manages public money and savings from implementing policy decisions are all factors that go towards reducing the council’s budget.
Reshaping the council includes reducing costs by reviewing and reorganising how the council works and reducing discretionary activity. It also includes a commitment by the council to make savings from a reduction in management and staff costs – commonly referenced by the council as ‘reshaping’. The council is consulting on reshaping the council in 2016/17 to the tune of a further £5.6million.
A similar reshaping exercise took place in 2015/16. As part of council’s reshaping agenda there is a statutory element placed on the council to consult with the recognised Trade Unions. The manner in which the council engages with the Trade Unions is through formal meetings – often referred to as HR1 meetings. When the reshaping of a service area is determined by the council, as part of their wider austerity programme, GMB will enter into more detailed consultation based meetings with the respective Assistant Director. Subsequently, we will attend the employer/staff meetings during what is often referred to as the Engagement and VR Window. GMB will always try to attend any meeting where the council is proposing a restructure of a service area, reduction in staff hours or any voluntary/compulsory redundancy situations.
Before the end of the consultation period, GMB will provide a written reply to the council on their proposed reshaping/restructuring of each service area. The GMB reply can be quite broad in its content or specific where the need arises. Key issues, for example, during the 2015/16 restructuring have been around the council’s Assimilation and Vacancy Preference Process. Where GMB disagree with the council in certain policy areas, we can articulate this within our consultation replies. However, within the context of consultation there is no obligation placed on the council to accept GMB observations or other recommendations put forward other Trade Unions. In some situations, post consultation, we may enter into further specific dialogue with the council to try and resolve a specific issue.
Before each service review/reshaping takes place, the respective Assistant Director (AD) will release a ‘Statement of Change’ document. This sets out the aim of the reshaping exercise but also includes additional information of those employees in scope, how to engage and timescales etc. As each of the Statement of Change consultation windows comes to an end, your GMB Branch Convenors will reply to each AD in return.
As service reviews continue across the Council, GMB will continue to advocate for mitigation factors in an effort to minimise and reduce any likelihood of compulsory redundancies with the following being considered:
- Savings in the non-staffing budget
- Employee reductions due to natural wastage
- Voluntary severance/redundancy
- Voluntary transfer to part-time work or job share (including consideration of pension provision)
- Reviewing or ending the use of agency staff
- Redeployment and retraining to other posts within the authority
The GMB replies for 2015-16 are shown below:
Environment & Community Services (Contract and Technical & Asset Management)
Children’s Services (Learning Improvement)