Unison: 'Army' of council workers lost to austerity cuts

Librarian Image copyright Popartic/Getty Images
Image caption Unison claims library budgets have been cut by a third since 2010

Welsh councils have shed more than 28,000 jobs in the last eight years, according to figures collated by public sector workers' union Unison.

The scale of job losses is similar to the numbers lost in the coal industry after the miners' strike in the 1980s.

The union said councils "have lost an army of librarians, youth workers and school support staff" and blames austerity from the UK government.

A Treasury spokesman said local funding was a matter for the Welsh Government.

The Welsh Government said it had offered local government "the best possible settlement in this ninth year of austerity".

Unison said it recognised council spending was higher than in 2010 but argued that it has not kept up with inflation.

Analysing the various services carried out by councils, Unison's "Audit of Austerity" claims that since 2009-10 in Wales:

  • Spending on planning and regulation has more than halved
  • Library budgets have been cut by a third
  • Spending on roads and transport have been cut by a quarter
  • Social services are the only departments which have not seen spending cuts

Unison has claimed the number of jobs lost is equivalent to the combined Welsh workforce of major companies Tata Steel, Admiral, Airbus, Transport for Wales, Ford, Brain's brewery and Principality building society.

It said for every six council jobs in 2010 there were now five, and more than 1,000 jobs in 15 of Wales' 22 councils have been lost.

Across the whole of the public sector in Wales, Office for National Statistics figures suggested a fall in 33,000 jobs in the eight years to June 2018.

Within local government, according to ONS figures collected quarterly by the Local Government Association, the headcount for workers in Welsh councils has fallen from 164,600 in the first quarter of 2010 to a revised final figure of 136,500 for the first quarter of 2018.

Unison said this did not include those council workers whose jobs had been outsourced or transferred to community-run organisations during this period. But the union believed this was a small number.

The Welsh Local Government Association said its own analysis estimates about 24,500 job losses, but warned this could accelerate - the equivalent of 7,000 jobs a year for the next three years - and that it was "running out of road" when it came to budget choices.

'I loved my class and didn't want it to stop'

Image caption Elizabeth Millington said there was a reliance on her and others to set up on their own for some services to continue

Elizabeth Millington, 40, was an art teacher for adults with learning difficulties at Caerphilly council but became self-employed after losing her job.

Because her students did not want to stop the classes, they now pay her directly. Ironically she now pays her former employer to rent one of their rooms for the classes.

But she no longer has the back up of sick pay, holiday pay or pension contributions. She is still employed by the council for another course she teaches but that is just two hours a week on a zero hours contract.

"I loved my class and didn't want it to stop," said Mrs Millington. "It wasn't a shock because there had been rumblings for a long time but it made you worried for the future and angry that art wasn't valued.

"To just look at things in terms of figures, especially when so much is about health and well-being.

"I'm doing this off my own bat, so what is the council for, where is it going to end? But if I'm not there, what's going to happen?"

Bethan Thomas, Unison Cymru Wales head of local government, said: "If 28,000 private sector jobs were threatened, governments would drop everything to ask the business 'how can we help?' There would be promises of investment and a special taskforce.

"We are at crisis point. It is only thanks to the dedication of council workers going beyond the call that our local services are functioning at all. There is no more scope for cuts in public services."

The union has called for a halt to the UK government's austerity programme and for investment in vital public services.

It also wants to see the Welsh Government take action, including three-yearly grant settlements, returning funding to councils to at least 2013-14 levels in real terms and to work with councils to release existing revenue streams.

'Borrowing powers'

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "We have tried to offer local government the best possible settlement in this ninth year of austerity and in the face of a £850m cut to our budget over the decade by the UK government.

"In our draft budget we were able to reduce the level of cuts councils had been expecting and following the autumn budget we increased the support for local government services.

"Last week we announced an extra £141.5m for local government, including raising the funding floor so no local authority faces a reduction of more than 0.5%.

"We are intending to legislate to support councils find new ways to deliver services and raise funding locally as well as working with them to release existing revenue streams."

The Treasury spokesman said the Welsh Government's block grant funding from the UK government will have grown to more than £16bn by 2020.

It added: "The Welsh Government also has extensive tax and borrowing powers which they can use to support their priorities in Wales."

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