On 29 November Edinburgh City Council’s SNP/Lib-Dem coalition administration announced plans to axe a thousand jobs. The announcement was e-mailed to staff even before the City Council unions had been informed.
Seven areas have been targeted for cutbacks, but home care services and home-helps are to bear the brunt. Other areas targeted by the Council include administration, call-centres, procurement, trading standards, and strategy.
Given that a large number of the posts are part-time — the one thousand posts translate into 882 full-time equivalents — and also involve a high proportion of agency staff, a disproportionately large number of posts at risk will be held by women.
The Council say the cuts will save £57 millions over three years. But the cost of implementing the cutbacks will amount to £27 millions (for redundancy payments, re-training, and new technology).
The background to the cutbacks is the Holyrood government’s so-called “Shared Services Pathfinder” project. Initiated by the previous Labour/Lib-Dem administration, but now being pursued by the SNP, the project defines its goal as “the simplification, standardisation, and sharing of council processes and services.”
Central is the idea that Councils should “share” service-provision and pool their resources wherever possible. Thus, for example, some staffing cutbacks are also planned by the Borders and Fife councils in conjunction with the Edinburgh cuts.
In reality, however, the Pathfinder project simply amounts to job losses and, inevitably, a worse level of service for the public.
The Council claims that half the posts to be axed are held by agency staff (i.e. technically not employees of the City Council itself), and the remaining job losses can be achieved through voluntary redundancy and natural wastage. But it has refused to rule out compulsory redundancies.
According to the chair of the Council’s Finance Committee, the job losses will even be a boost for the rest of the Council’s workforce: “It’s good for staff, as they will be able to do their job more effectively and, hopefully, find it more rewarding.”
The Tories have already declared their support for the cuts (“The Council is here to provide services, not to guarantee jobs.”). And while Labour will probably quibble about the details of their implementation, they too also support the cuts in principle (“It was us that started this process and we want to make sure it works.”).
Unison has pledged that it will take strike action in the event of any compulsory redundancies. UNISON meetings scheduled to be held as we go to press are due to discuss the proposed cuts and the union’s response in more detail.