Council ‘staff at breaking point’
SURREY County Council has come under fire from its employees over everything from pay to a wish for more ‘team awaydays’. The comments follow feedback sessions between November and June, involving 43 members of staff. Complaints included there being ‘too much pressure on toilets and photocopiers’ due to overcrowded offices; a demanding public; a desire for more competitive pay rates; and the assertion team days away ‘seem to have lost funding’. Communication appears to be an issue. Observations highlighted delays in the provision of training, that reviews and appraisals were not always carried out properly and reorganisation and cuts had created a fear of job instability. Paul Couchman, secretary of Surrey County Unison, said: “We are not surprised by the responses. “Our members are working longer hours, with
also less staff doing more work than ever before. “In real terms, Surrey County Council employees have seen their incomes drop by between 10% and 15% since 2010. The recent vote by county councillors to increase their own allowances by up to 40%, while imposing a miserly £250 annual cost-of-living increase for 2015/16 for employees, has incensed our members to the point where we are considering balloting for industrial action over next year’s pay settlement.” Mr Couchman said the government’s austerity drive has hit hardest in local government. “Although our members continue to do an excellent job, despite all the ongoing pressures, morale is low and fear for the future is widespread,” he said. “We are proud Surrey County Council has been at the forefront of rolling out workplace ‘health checks’, with the trade unions. “Unison is seriously concerned that many teams are reaching or have reached breaking point – and there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel.” Some positive feedback did emerge from the consultation. The report claimed staff said they enjoyed working for the county council and were proud of their work, and that they feel they are treated with respect and valued for their efforts. The actions to address employees’ feedback will be discussed in November. “We need to ensure that the solutions to these problems are really effective,” said the council’s opposition Liberal Democrat leader, Hazel Watson. Farnham Castle was used on ‘away-days’ by the council’s senior staff three times in 2012, it was revealed last year. The authority made headlines after it paid more than £4,000 to take 26 senior politicians and officers on a workshop there, only for local government secretary Eric Pickles to blast councils that stayed at ‘posh hotels’, for wasting money.