Unison members who work as care workers in the Enablement Service at Birmingham City Council have been in dispute with the Council since December 2017 – over a year ago. These workers are nearly all women and they are all low paid.
The dispute started over management proposals to alter working arrangements which involve introducing unworkable split shifts and pay cuts of between £5,000 and £11,000.
So far these workers have taken over 25 days of strike action to defend their jobs.
Cllr Paulette Hamilton, Cabinet member for Social Care, ignores the question at the Council meeting
At the City Council meeting on Tuesday 15 January a question on the Enablement care workers’ campaign was put by Barbara Holland, a supporter of the campaign, to Councillor Paulette Hamilton, Cabinet member for Social Care. Here is the question:
The Government announced in the Autumn Budget that it would be giving Birmingham City Council £15.2M in additional social care funding during 2019-20. £5.6M of this is ring fenced for adult social care with a steer towards dealing with hospital discharge and a further £9.6M that can be spent on either adult or children’s social care.
The council’s budget papers show that there is also currently an underspend in the Adults Social Care budget.
Considering this, why is the Council still attempting to cut the pay of homecare enablement assistants who are some of the lowest paid employees of the council and making cuts to the enablement service that the council provides free to the citizens of this city.”
This is the reply from Cllr Hamilton at the Council meeting:
Thank you for your question Barbara.
The current enablement service does not meet the needs of our service users. As a Council our proposals remain to establish and deliver a service which meets the needs of our service users and our commissioners – the health service, the NHS – at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer by providing services to our most vulnerable service users at times to suit service users. Our aim is to reverse the current trend of decreasing service users to ensure we have a viable service going forward of a high quality which is fit for purpose and meets the needs and focuses on enabling our citizens. As a Labour administration we have always been clear and strive to minimise the impact on existing staff, many of whom are recognised by Birmingham City Council as low paid workers.
Unfortunately there will be some impact on numbers of posts, hours of work and the pay of individuals. It also needs to be recognised that ten percent of members of staff will be better off as a result of the proposals. For those staff that will be impacted a range of mitigations have been developed and will be considered and explored with staff. For those members of staff not wishing to go on the enablement journey other vacancies have been held which staff can consider transferring to on their existing grade.
I would like to thank you Barbara for the question.
Councillor Hamilton deliberately ignores the specific point of the question – that the government has given the Council additional funding for social care, including £5.6M “ring fenced for adult social care with a steer towards dealing with hospital discharge”, which is precisely the work of the Enablement Service. Instead she fobs off the question with a piece of public relations waffle. Just look at the self-serving officer-style jargon: “those members of staff not wishing to go on the enablement journey”. This is the management language of New Labour, not the voice of Corbynism.
By refusing to answer this entirely legitimate question Cllr Hamilton’s reply shows a lack of respect for the enablement care workers who give so much to their job and the people they serve.
The Council’s regime of secrecy
But it’s typical of the regime of secrecy that hides the Council’s budgeting from public view and questioning. Just the day before the Council meeting the Birmingham Post reported that “Birmingham City Council bosses make nearly one third of key decisions behind closed doors“. Sir Albert Bore, former Council leader and now chair of the Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee, stated that public information was often withheld for a private report unnecessarily.
He said: “It continues to happen, why? I perhaps take the view it is because members or officers don’t want that in public and therefore will allow things to be in private because it is hidden from view. It is hidden away.”
We saw this secrecy at work with the so-called Budget consultation. All we were allowed to see in the Council document was the cuts the Council was planning to make.
The cuts the Council has decided on amount to £50 million this year, hitting the poorest and most vulnerable, as the Council admits. But the Council’s total Controllable Expenditure is £1.1billion. The planned savings amount to just 4.5% of the total Council Budget. Where are the plans for the remaining 95.5%? There isn’t a word about them in the consultation document. Why are they kept secret and not spelled out in the report?
The Council leadership says “The purpose of this consultation is… to invite the public and partners to consider these savings proposals, provide feedback and, if they wish, make alternative suggestions.” (Report to Cabinet 13 November). But how can we make alternative suggestions if we aren’t given the full picture? (See our full report on the BATC website on 1 January.)
More secrecy: the failure of the Health and Social Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee to challenge Cllr Hamilton’s attack on the Enablement Workers
It is the Committee’s responsibility to examine the policies and actions of the Council on behalf of citizens and hold them to account. (See Note at end on Scrutiny role.)
There are 5 Labour Party members: Nicky Brennan; Mick Brown; Ziaul Islam; Rob Pocock (chair); Chauhdry Rashid. There is also one Tory and one LibDem councillor.
There have been 5 monthly meeting of the Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee since last summer. According to the minutes there was no mention at all of the Enablement Service or the ongoing dispute at the meetings in September, November or December. The Notes of the October meeting contain just the following sentence: ‘An update was given on the dispute with the Enablement Service.’ Nothing is said about who gave the update or whether anyone spoke out in support of the Unison members.
At the 20 November meeting a 10-page report was presented by the Cabinet Member for Health & Social Care Councillor Paulette Hamilton. (See below for link.) It contains no mention at all of the Enablement Service or the dispute.
This is a sorry record of complete failure of the Scrutiny Committee to carry out its responsibilities.
Put the Enablement Service issue on the 22 January Scrutiny Committee agenda
It is no surprise to see that the Enablement Service funding and dispute are still not on the agenda of the next Scrutiny Committee meeting on 22 January. Labour members should be demanding now that it is a key item.
It’s time for Labour Scrutiny members to speak out – support the Unison workers and challenge Cllr Hamilton.
This what the Council’s Constitution says about Scrutiny: it
i) Provides “critical friend” challenge to executive policy-makers and decision-makers;
(ii) Enables the voice and concerns of the public and its communities to be heard;
(iii) Is carried out by ‘independent minded members’ who lead and own the scrutiny process;
(iv) Drives improvement in public services. (p5. See more on p47)
This is the URL of Cllr Hamilton’s report at the November Scrutiny meeting: