Vital local services in Scotland are collapsing say council staff in UNISON survey

Local government spending cuts have left councils in Scotland unable to meet the needs of local communities and, in some cases, are putting the public at risk, says UNISON today (Monday).

A survey, released to coincide with the union’s local government conference, reveals that almost eight in ten (78%) council workers have no confidence in the future of local services, and half (50%) are thinking of leaving their jobs for less stressful work elsewhere.

The survey – of more than 2,000 local government employees working across all services – reveals that 68% say residents don’t receive help and support when they need it, and 51% are not confident vulnerable residents are safe and cared for.

Council staff who took part 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 across Scotland left needing an extra £385m just to stand still in 2018/19. In UNISON’s survey, an overwhelming 82% of respondents in Scotland admitted these cuts have had a negative impact on their ability to do the job as well as they can.

While local authorities have protected spending on statutory service areas such as adult and children’s social care, the amount they spend on other areas like parks and libraries has fallen sharply, says UNISON.

Worryingly, over half [57%] of those who responded believe their council no longer delivers quality services, and the same number (57%) that their employer doesn’t make the right decisions for the public. Additionally, more than two-thirds (70%) are concerned about the financial situation of their council.

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

Three-quarters (74%) of those surveyed said there had been job cuts in their departments and as a result, over half (57%) don’t 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 (52%) said their workload is unmanageable and another 57% that they regularly work beyond their contracted hours.

Mark Ferguson, chair of UNISON Scotland’s local government committee, said: “Local services are collapsing and council workers are being left to pick up the pieces and do the best they can amid the chaos. 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.”

Notes to editors:

Quotes from Scotland’s council employees:

• A trading standards officer said: “The job has changed too much in the last few years. It is like nobody cares anymore.”

• A sheltered housing officer said: “Very high and stressful workload. I work alone so am responsible for the support of over 50 individuals. Some have very complex needs and trying to identify, manage and document everything is difficult. Never enough hours in the day!”

• A council worker in the roads team said: “It is no exaggeration to say that my own workload has doubled in the last few years.”

• A building control worker said: “The department is broken and current measures to meet targets for first reports are only going to paper over the cracks. Serious investment in staff is required to tackle the workload.”

• A school support worker said: “The cutbacks mean that everybody is having a heavier workload which in some cases affects the children because people are feeling stressed . There is a greater number of children needing support and instead of reducing support staff they should be increasing them. At the moment not every child is getting the support they deserve.

• A carer said: “It is quite stressful trying to spend enough time with clients who think you are just running in and out of their home and not caring that you maybe the only person they see in a day”

* A recent National Audit Office* (NAO) report revealed that government funding for local authorities in England has fallen by an estimated 49.1% (in real terms) from 2010-11 to 2017-18. NAO report the financial sustainability of local authorities 2018. In Scotland, the financial settlement for local government at the start of the year saw councils across Scotland left needing an extra £385m just to stand still in 2018/19. In Wales, councils face a shortfall in funding for the next two years. Core funding for local government has reduced by nearly £800m, or 20%, since 2011-12.

For further information please see:

UNISON Scotland briefing ‘Damaging impact of unfair council cuts’

UNISON Scotland’s damage reports – a series of reports featuring surveys with our members on how austerity is hitting public  services