UNISON have taken the initiative and gathered members of staff in the Community Learning and Development (CLD) Service, SSTAR Clerical and Administration staff who work alongside the service and submitted an open letter to all councillors and the Director of Children’s Services.
The letter (below), which was also submitted by joint unions, outlines all the great work that staff do stating that it is important that we set out the valuable service to the public that would be lost if current budget options were enacted. The unions have requested that these points be fully taken into consideration in the decision-making process.
Dear Councillors and Director of Children’s Services,
Joint Trade Unions: Concerns of Members in the Community Learning and Development Service Regarding the Budget Options for Falkirk Council for 2017/18
As members of staff in the Community Learning and Development (CLD) Service and SSTAR Clerical and Administration staff who work alongside the service, we take great pride in the work we undertake on behalf of Falkirk Council to support young people, adults, families and communities. From working directly with people on the front line, we know first-hand the great value local people place in the work we do. We have grave concerns regarding the budget options currently being considered by Falkirk Council for the financial year 2017/18 and the impact they would have on our service to the public. We are therefore writing to you through the joint trade unions to express our concerns and we ask that these concerns be taken into account in the decision-making process.
From reading the budget options document and from discussions with senior management, we understand that the budget options affecting CLD would result in:
redundancy for the majority of CLD staff, reducing the staff group from one of around 100 people to a core group of less than 20 people
the complete end of all adult education provision (although we would point out that the CLD Service is not currently structured in functional teams so that there is not a separate adult education team)
the withdrawal of youth work provision from all but a few areas classed as in the category of areas suffering the most deprivation and
the closing down of all community education centres, CLD bases and associated buildings unless communities themselves took on responsibility for running and financing them.
We want you to be clear that these options mean the end of a permanent, visible CLD presence in most communities and the end of the access of people to local facilities. This prospect is already causing great anguish in communities.
Currently, Centre Co-ordinators and Caretakers keep community education centres open morning, noon and night and set rooms and halls up for a whole host of community groups and classes and sports groups. These staff act as a first point of contact for centre users and also check the buildings regularly and order repairs, thus ensuring the buildings are maintained. They also use their initiative and assist people in countless ways as they go about their business to aid the smooth running of centres.
The cleaning staff provided by Development Services also do great work very early in the morning ensuring our centres are clean and fit to be used, as well as often alerting other staff to any building problems they have spotted in the course of their work.
Confident that they have this invaluable support from Centre Co-ordinators, Caretakers, and Cleaners, Community Education Workers work in the centres with management committees and others to provide a programme of activities and classes for local people. Community Education Workers work with a variety of community groups such as parents and toddlers groups, senior citizens groups, arts and crafts groups, campaigning groups on equality for disabled people, youth clubs, job clubs, personal development courses, IT classes, Adult Literacy and Numeracy classes, English for Speakers of Other Languages classes and many other classes and sporting groups. Community Education Workers and management committees meet regularly and the various groups are represented on the management committees. A real sense of community in each area has been built up in this way. The centres become the invaluable focal points of the communities in which they are situated and encourage people to think and act collectively for the benefit of their communities.
People in local communities value having the facilities on their doorstep. The activities at the centres enable people to get together and avoid social isolation. We are aware of the fear and heartache already being experienced by members of some groups at the thought of losing the social support of their group.
Families especially benefit from the fact that their young people have local access to youth clubs. The part-time youth workers (or CLD Assistants) who run the youth clubs based in centres in local areas really get to know the young people they work with and programme the clubs based on the interests and needs of the young people. Provision of youth clubs and groups and classes in centres across all Falkirk Council areas gives the council a friendly, local presence, generating a level of good will for the council.
CLD staff also combine across the council area to provide training and other cross-community events such as awards nights and youth and family residential events. Clerical and administration staff are essential in supporting arrangements for such events and other aspects of our work.
We are certain that vastly reduced CLD services will result in greatly increased health and social problems. Falkirk Council and other agencies would then have to spend more money combating the damage caused, cancelling out the savings made.
As CLD staff, we are very conscious of the costs and work that go into running CLD buildings. We would be anxious that communities received proper information, honest advice, training and support before agreeing to take responsibility for buildings. There are many groups with skilled individuals but the responsibility, time commitments and fund-raising involved could potentially be extremely onerous for volunteers with their own family, work and personal commitments. Indeed, even before that stage, we are aware that centre users would appreciate a budget briefing for them so that they get as much information as possible about the budget.
As members of CLD staff who are deeply committed to our work with the public, we are concerned at how people would suffer from a dramatic reduction of service. We are also, naturally, anxious about our own jobs. We would request that the council let us know the details of any plans for the structure of the service should these options be enacted. We would also be anxious to know that a fair and transparent process would be used to determine how the reduced level of posts would be filled. We would ask that no actions be taken prematurely, in advance of budget decisions, which pave the way for centre closures or a particular staff structure.
Also, we would urge that due account be taken of the Community Empowerment Act. This places duties on councils in terms of working with communities and facilitating their participation in decision-making. A properly function CLD service is essential to meet these requirements.
We understand that the council faces substantial financial difficulties and has to make savings but we think it is important that we set out the valuable service to the public that would be lost if current budget options were enacted. We would request that these points be fully taken into consideration in the decision-making process.
CLD & Allied Staff/Joint Trade Unions