Published: 12/07/2018 08:55 - Updated: 10/07/2018 12:50

Councils struggling to meet local needs

Council officeA SURVEY by the second largest trade union in the UK has revealed that cuts mean councils are unable to meet the needs of local communities.

Unison contacted more than 2000 local government employees working across all services and found that 78 per cent of council workers have no confidence in the future of local services, and half are thinking of leaving their jobs for less stressful work elsewhere.

Around 68 per cent say residents do not receive help and support when they need it, and 51 per cent are not confident vulnerable residents are safe and cared for.

A Unison spokesperson said: “Council staff shared stories of overcrowded families living in mouldy properties, fly-tipping being left for weeks, increasing rodent populations, residents’ cars damaged by huge potholes, and vulnerable children, young people and adults not getting the help and support they need.”

In Scotland, the financial settlement for local government at the start of the year saw councils left needing an extra £385 million just to stand still in 2018/19. In Unison’s survey, 82 per cent of respondents admitted these cuts have had a negative impact on their ability to do the job as well as they can.

Over half of those who responded believe their council no longer delivers quality services, and the same number believe their employer does not make the right decisions for the public.

Additionally, more than two-thirds are concerned about the financial situation of their council.

Council workers identified a lack of front line staff (69 per cent), adult social care (59 per cent), safeguarding children and young people (41 per cent), a lack of housing options (43 per cent) and road repairs (46 per cent) as the biggest challenges facing local authorities in Scotland.

Three-quarters of those surveyed said there had been job cuts in their departments and as a result, over half do not feel secure in their jobs. Many spoke of colleagues leaving and not being replaced, causing those remaining to pick up the extra work. As a result, over half said their workload is unmanageable and another 57 per cent that they regularly work beyond their contracted hours.

Chairman of Unison Scotland’s local government committee, Mark Ferguson, believes local services are collapsing and council workers are being left to pick up the pieces.

He said: “This disturbing survey should ring alarm bells in Whitehall and Holyrood and alert ministers to the crisis happening in councils across Scotland. Local authorities have had to cut so many vital services that they have now reached a point where vulnerable children and the elderly struggle to get the help that they need, entire communities are suffering, and the public are being put at risk.

“With cuts to road and bridge maintenance, potholes in roads are left unfilled, and bridges are at risk of crumbling. Crematoriums are not maintained, streetlights stay broken, and parks are in disrepair as councils don’t have the equipment or the staff to adequately maintain them.

“There are now over one million people with an unmet need for social care because councils don’t have the resources to support them. Now is the time to reverse these cuts and invest in local government once more or the very fabric of our society will come unstuck.”

The Gazette asked the four Forres Moray councillors to comment.

Former council leader George Alexander agreed with Mr Ferguson.

He said: “The financial crisis facing Moray Council is in no way the fault of the people of Moray nor their councillors and council officers. The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of Holyrood and Westminster politicians.”

Lorna Creswell answered: “I share his plea for further funding.”

Claire Feaver said: “The Chairman of Unison Scotland’s local government committee gives a very real description of the state of affairs in local government. I am alarmed at the impact the lack of funding could have in Forres. Many services local people rely on could be at risk. Until the Government give councils like Moray a fairer allocation of funding so that we can deliver these services properly we will continue to see piecemeal cuts. Those of us tasked with delivering a balanced budget have to make the very tough decisions.”

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