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Council workers to protest over shake-up of service for the needy

PUBLISHED: 09:58 07 December 2010 | UPDATED: 16:50 07 December 2010

Cllr Michael Armstrong

Cllr Michael Armstrong

Archant

AN ENTIRE Havering Council department is to vent its anger against proposed staff cuts which it claims will overwhelm workers and severely affect needy residents.

The council’s customer services division is to be decimated by around 25 per-cent while at the same time its workload is to be bulked significantly in a shake-up dubbed Customer Services Transformation.

The controversial restructure forms early action plans by the authority to shave millions of pounds from its budget in light of the recession. But protestors say the plan will severely undermine provision at the council’s call centre and Public Advice and Service Centre (PASC) - an amalgamated resource offering residents advice on a range of vital matters including housing benefit, council tax and StreetCare – at a time when its needed most.

Customer services worker Jenny Kingaby said: “We are concerned about our jobs, but more than that, we take pride in the service we provide, and our biggest worry is that their plans just won’t work, and people who need help from the council won’t be able to get it.”

Cllr Keith Darvill, Labour leader, slammed the proposal as “a crazy move” in the shifting sands of the economy.

“I have been told there is a considerable amount of staff concern,” he said, “and there is genuine belief the public will be badly served by this because there is going to be increased demand for advice at this time.

“Then you add to it the fact that legal aid is being cut and the CAB [Citizens’ Advice Bureau] is at full stretch, then it all adds up to a crazy move.”

Havering Unison will lobby against the proposal on behalf of workers at a meeting of Full Council in Havering Town Hall, in Main Road, Romford, tomorrow evening (Wednesday December 8).

Unison’s branch secretary, Garry Chick-Mackay, said: “The idea that you can cut staffing levels so harshly, while at the same time move 90 per-cent of customer contacts over to the customer services department, just beggars belief.

“We’re very concerned that staff will be overloaded, and residents’ access to council services will be put at risk.”

Cllr Michael Armstrong, cabinet member for transformation, said: “Over the next three years we have to bridge a £19 million funding gap and need to change the way we work to help meet this. We are currently consulting staff and unions on proposals, which involves restructuring many of our teams. This consultation will come to an end on December 29. Before making any final decisions we will be considering all the feedback that we have received. We will present our final structure in January.

“We have been in steady and constructive dialogue with the unions since the start of the consultation in September, so we are disappointed that this action is being taken while meaningful conversations are still taking place. We remain committed to talking to our staff and the unions throughout the process and considering the issues that they raise.”

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