Staff in protest over county budget cuts

Protestors at county hall demonstrating against the proposed cuts at Northumberland County Council.
Protestors at county hall demonstrating against the proposed cuts at Northumberland County Council.

CROWDS turned out yesterday to protest against proposed cuts of £45million which will result in more than 1,000 jobs being lost at Northumberland County Council.

But despite the rally, the budget was approved by the authority’s full council budget-setting meeting.

Members of the joint trade unions – Unison, GMB and Unite – alongside representatives from the Universities and Colleges Union, the North East Pensioners Association, members of the public and family and friends joined the mass rally at County Hall to try to sway politicians on budget proposals which could lead to 200 compulsory redundancies.

Unions and staff at the authority raised huge concerns about the detrimental impact these cuts could have on front-line services.

Members lobbied outside the council buildings yesterday afternoon with flags and banners before speakers met protestors at the Viking statue and told of the huge challenges that the whole county will face. Workers at County Hall were leaning out of windows and gathering in stairwells to listen.

Mark Wilson, regional organiser in Northumberland for the GMB, said: “There are 200 staff facing compulsory redundancy and there’s a cut in severance pay for long-standing hard-working employees for the next round of job cuts to just above the statutory minimum amount.

“Politicians say the severance reductions have to happen or more jobs will go, but shame on them for taking the easy option because more jobs are going to go anyway.”

Joyce Guthrie, joint secretary of the Northumberland Unison branch, said the situation was a “disgrace” and many women would be hit by the cuts, such as the jobs of dinner ladies with the school meals service subsidy from the authority under threat.

She added: “This is a class war and we will not pay the price for the bankers’ mess.

“I could be one of the many people losing their job and I’m not prepared to simply allow this to happen.”

Protestors told of their concerns fearing that unemployment would rise, services would be severely impacted and residents would lose out.

A 51-year-old highways worker from north Northumberland said: “If the cuts come in, basically we are going to lose our home. It’s not just the cuts, it’s the wages, it’s the terms and conditions, it’s everything.

“At my age, there’s not a chance of getting another job, there’s no jobs in the North East. The private industry isn’t going to take on the workforce.”

A dinnerlady, speaking on behalf of all those who couldn’t make it to the rally, said: “We have got no options. If they cut the school dinner subsidy then the schools themselves haven’t got the money to put anything else on. This means we are going to lose our jobs. We didn’t realise a school dinner service doesn’t have to be provided.

“When you cook for some of these kids, it’s the only hot meal they get each day. We run a really, really good service and it will have a massive impact especially in smaller, rural schools.”

A member of staff from the social services offices in Alnwick, said: “I’m here because of the huge cuts being implemented across all services in the county.

“The impact it will have will be massive on our service provision and in my work in child protection everything is going to go out the window.

County Coun Robert Arckless said: “I am very impressed with the turnout at the rally. It is indicative of how concerned people are about the situation. There are people here from right across the council departments.

“A vast number of people have worked for the council for many years. They have provided a really good service and they are scared about what’s happening and that’s understandable.

“Northumberland has not had an easy time in terms of the financial situation but what is different about the present situation is the scale and the timing of it. I have never seen anything as bad as this and I don’t honestly think members of the public realise what’s going to happen. It will have a very direct impact.”

While trade unionists and many workers and members of the public as possible piled into the council chamber to listen to the budget discussions at 3pm, others continued to lobby outside the chamber to keep up the heat.