Hampshire library workers told '˜not to mention budget constraints' or face disciplinary action

STAFF at a Hampshire library have told a workers union they are not allowed to mention budget constraints as an explanation to enquiries about reduced services - or they face disciplinary action.

The news comes as a survey released by Unison revealed local government spending cuts have left councils in the south east unable to meet the needs of local communities and, in some cases, are putting the public at risk.

Council staff told the union local services are collapsing.

A library worker in Hampshire said decisions are increasingly being made based on revenue potential, rather than value to the public, leaving the poorest and most vulnerable without access to services they depend upon.

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The worker told Unison: ‘Staff are being forced to pay for very basic provisions out of their own pocket, due to budget restrictions.

‘We have lost four full-time members of staff in the last year, and there is no intention to replace them.

‘We have been explicitly told that we are not allowed to mention budget constraints as an explanation to any enquiries about reduced services, and threatened with disciplinary action if we do so.’

The survey, of 1,104 local government employees working across all services in the region, showed two thirds (66 per cent) said residents don’t receive help and support when they need it, and more than half (56 per cent) are not confident vulnerable residents are safe and cared for.

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It also showed 80 per cent of council workers in the south east have no confidence in the future of local services, and 46 per cent are thinking of leaving their jobs for less stressful work elsewhere.

The council staff who took part shared stories of families living in mouldy, overcrowded, 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.

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, said UNISON.

A recent National Audit Office (NAO) report revealed government funding for local authorities in England has fallen by an estimated 49 per cent (in real terms) from 2010-11 to 2017-18.

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In Unison’s survey, 84 per cent of respondents in the south east admitted these cuts have had a negative impact on their ability to do the job as well as they can.

Unison south east regional secretary, Steve Torrance, 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 alert ministers to the crisis happening in councils across the south east.

‘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.

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‘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.

A total of 49 per cent of those who responded believe their council no longer delivers quality services, and 46 per cent that their employer doesn’t make the right decisions for the public.

Of those surveyed, 73 per cent said there had been redundancies in their departments and as a result 38 per cent 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, 62 per cent of council workers are regularly working over four hours a week unpaid beyond their contracted hours.