Council staff are ‘tired’

Tuesday December 15th 2020


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

A plea for council workers to be recognised for their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic was backed by Midlothian councillors after their union rep told them “staff are tired”.

In an emotional plea for support for public sector workers, Grace Chalmers, from Unison, said that council staff had gone above and beyond to support people during the crisis.

And she appealed to councillors to throw their weight behind the union’s Plug The Gap campaign, which is calling for more funding for local authorities to reward workers for their efforts, supporting a living wage for them, and fund and protect council services.

Appearing before a virtual meeting of the council, Ms Chalmers said: “During this pandemic we have provided the vulnerable in our community with a lot of help and support that they deserved but our staff are tired.

“They were asked to take on new roles and they stepped up to the challenge.

“Now Unison hopes you will support us in getting better financial equality and plugging the gap.”

Councillors were later asked to vote on a motion by Councillor Stephen Curran which backed Unison’s campaign and, following amendments, read:

“This council welcomes the Scottish Government’s recent announcement of ‘a package of financial flexibilities and extra funding for councils to address the financial pressures caused by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic over the next two years’.

“Whilst we welcome the recognition of the financial crisis local government is in, we remain concerned that this ‘financial package’ announced so far does not solve the problem.

“But these fiscal flexibilities are no substitute for a fair funding settlement.

“This council still faces a perfect financial storm of extra demand for services at a time of substantial loss of income, which means impossible choices about the funding of services going forward.

“This council notes that £2bn of ‘efficiencies’ have already been taken out of local government over the last decade.

“The council also notes that the Scottish budget is dependent on the UK Government.

“We also know that the financial impact of Covid- 19 will not be confined to the next few months and, with Brexit looming, the effects of both on the wider economy are going to make the crises in local government much worse.”

It agreed to back Unison’s four Plug the Gap campaign objectives to reward local government workers, secure the long-term financial stability of local government, shape it to be fit for post-pandemic future, and fully consolidate the living wage.

However, concerns were raised by councillors Pauline Winchester and Janet Lay-Douglas over supporting a public sector pay rise at a time when the private sector was suffering.

Councillor Winchester said: “Public sector workers are not the only ones affected by this horrendous pandemic.”

The council approved the motion by nine votes to four.

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