Press review page

This page will include press releases, letters and articles from the local and national press written by or about the branch or Islington.


As British trade unionists, we stand with striking miners

Morning Star Online

Tuesday 02 October 2012 Printable Email An open letter to His Excellency Dr Zola Skweyiya, South Africa's ambassador in London:

As trade unionists and human rights activists, we were shocked and angered to learn that on Thursday August 16, police opened fire on striking miners at the British-owned Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa.

Forty-five miners were killed in what the South African press called a "bloodbath that recalled the worst massacres of the apartheid epoch" (Business Day).

The only "crime" the miners had committed was to go on strike with their independent trade union in support of the demand for decent wages and decent working conditions from a company which has been exploiting the miners and their families for years.

We understand that the wives of the miners came out into the streets singing the songs of the struggle against the apartheid regime and demanding that the South African government, led by the African National Congress, "stop shooting our husbands and sons."

We in Islington Unison pledge to support the miners and all our brothers and sisters of South Africa who are engaged in a fight for a society that will give the justice and the dignity that they won after their decades-long battle against apartheid.

We support the South African miners' demand that the South African government should withdraw the operating licence and nationalise the Lonmin Mining Company.

We add our voices to those of millions of trade unionists and human rights activists the world over who are urging your government to immediately release those arrested and lift all charges against them.

Jane Doolan and Mike Calvert

Islington Unison and 76 others

Nothing fair about cuts

Published: 02 March 2012
• WE are opposed, as council staff, to any cuts.
Just because a Labour council committed to policies such as the Fairness Commission implements vicious cuts, resulting in 136 posts going now and more than 20 additionally after Homes for Islington returns to the fold, does not make them any fairer or nicer.
These cuts are not the fault of working people but are the result of the bankers’ debt.
While we are prepared to work with the Labour council on a day-to-day basis, we will criticise the council and fight it when cuts and redundancies bite.
Jane Doolan
Mike Calvert
Islington Unison

Fears have been raised that Islington’s libraries will become “soulless and impersonal” like supermarkets after town hall bosses agreed to roll out self-service machines.
Automated terminals for checking out books will be introduced in all 10 of the borough’s libraries in a bid to save £250,000 over three years.But critics say the system will make the service less accessible for elderly and disabled people and could wreck the treasured library experience.
Jane Doolan, branch secretary of Islington Unison, the trade union that represents library staff, said: “They are going to make it a bit like a supermarket. I would not even use one of those machines in Tesco - I don’t trust them and I want a bit of human contact, and a lot of people feel like that.
“My daughter with Down’s syndrome won’t be able to use one of these machines. It’s going to be older people and people with disabilities that will be affected.”
Cllr Terry Stacy, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition, said: “The next thing we know, libraries will be run by Tesco. It will be much more impersonal and soulless. Our libraries have always prided themselves on the personal touch and that’s what residents like and expect.”
The machines will cost an initial £565,000 but are projected to save £250,000 through staffing reductions by 2014.
The move is part of a £650,000 cuts plan approved by Islington Council’s executive on Thursday. It will also see hours slashed at eight libraries set to be “twinned”, which will only open on alternate days.
Cllr Paul Convery, Islington Council’s executive member for planning, regeneration and transport, said: “Going to a library is not like shopping at a supermarket. The most important part is not the transaction of taking a library book out, it’s about staff and user interaction. We think the self-service works and people will not lose that interaction.”
He added: “We are keeping all 10 libraries open and spending the same on books. If things get better, we have retained all our libraries and would be able to increase opening hours again.”

Protecting pensions

Published: 27 October, 2011
• IT is excellent news that Unison is to ballot members in the Local Government Pension Scheme and members in the NHS and the civil service.
The draft reforms propose to hike our pension contribution by 50 per cent or more; work until as old as 68.
(The government has announced it is bringing forward its rise in the state pension age to 67 to as soon as 2026.)
This reform is neither amendable nor negotiable.
It must be withdrawn.
This is why we agree that any “deal” within the framework set by the reform should be immediately rejected.
There is no possible consensus on the destruction of our pensions and this is what the November 30 strike is about.
Islington Unison

Vulnerable put at risk

Published: September 16, 2011
• WE would like to register our strong opposition to the reorganisation of community services for mental health service users by Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust. The reorganisation will wreck what has been rated as excellent by the Care Quality Commission.
The changes will put vulnerable mental health service users at increased risk of harm to themselves and others at a time when three inpatient wards have just been closed.
We deplore the fact that the trust has refused to have a public consultation. For many users, where they go for support and who they get their support from will change. Many will cease to have access to a care coordinator, who ensures they receive a coherent and safe service.
The reorganisation punishes hard-working frontline workers by downgrading them, reducing their numbers and increasing their workload while the top directors received substantial pay rises.  This will inevitably result in demoralised staff and poor services.  The reorganisation unfairly attacks the low-paid, such as admin staff, without whom the service would grind to a halt. Most are women, who face a £3,000-a-year pay cut.
This reorganisation is  a blatant cost-cutting exercise. We ask that the trust sits down with mental health service users and workers to decide on a way forward we can all agree on.
Mike Calvert
Deputy branch secretary,
Islington Unison local government branch

Cuts and ‘casualised’ staff... is this our libraries’ future?

Published: 17 June, 2011
• THE current consultation on shaping the future of the library service, with its inclusion of setting up a trust, is a serious threat to library services and jobs.
What is noticeable about the council’s public consultation document is that it does not explain to the public what a trust is.
A trust would mean transferring the entire library service to a non-profit organisation. While the council would retain ownership of the buildings, the library service would, in effect, be run by a board, which might include users, businesses, the voluntary sector, staff and councillors.
It would operate at “arms’-length” from the council, a bit like Homes for Islington, and would constitute outsourcing. This at a time when the Labour council has pledged to bring back in-house services that were previously outsourced.
The option of the trust is being recommended in order to save money. However, the trust’s financial and management structures could lead to failure and liquidation. This could result in the council being in breach of the 1964 Libraries Act.
The savings required may not be achievable, and this could lead to a substantial cut in library services and staff. The experience of other trusts shows that the workforce has been “casualised”, with their terms and conditions greatly eroded.
Unison and the GMB have decided to organise their own public meeting before the end of the consultation period, with a view to inviting councillors to debate this issue with us.
Branch secretary, Unison 
A MARCH against Islington Council cuts set to savage the borough will take place tonight.
Protesters will congregate at Highbury Fields before walking to the Town Hall, in Upper Street, to lobby the council’s budget meeting, as plans to cut £52million and slash 280 jobs are discussed.
The protest is being staged by the Islington branch of Unison, the trade union for public sector workers.
Mike Calvert, Islington Unison’s deputy branch secretary, said: “We are utterly opposed to the policies of the coalition government. We think that the council needs to lead a fight in the community against these vicious plans. Each of the 280 job losses is an individual with family members and these cuts affect each of them and the communities they live in.”
The march will set off from Fieldway Crescent, Highbury Fields, at around 6pm.

Benefits advice jobs saved for at least a year

Campaigners win reprieve for six staff

Published: 28th January, 2011

TRADE unionists were yesterday (Thursday) celebrating victory in their campaign to save the jobs of welfare advisors who help claimants obtain benefits.
Islington’s Labour council is set to reprieve six advice staff earmarked for redundancy in a £22.5million cuts package.
The “rights officers” work for the Town Hall’s income maximisation team (IMT), with each worker obtaining £700,000 in benefits for clients annually.
Labour finance chief Councillor Richard Greening said the staff should be able to keep their jobs – at least for another year.
He added: “In my view we shouldn’t go ahead with that particular cut. The government is scaling back welfare benefits and we are going to need resources to defend the interests of many ordinary people who depend on benefits.”
Mike Calvert, deputy secretary of trade union Islington Unison, welcomed the reprieve. “We think the welfare rights unit does a very good job,” he said.
The £239,000 staffing cut was contained in a package of around 200 economies being considered by the ruling Labour group.
Cllr Greening said: “I’m proposing to postpone the cut until next year.
“We are going to conduct a review of advice provision.”
The 35 ruling Labour councillors will finalise the cuts package at a closed meeting on Monday before making the measures public later next week.
The cuts are due to be ratified at a full council meeting on February 17.

Islington Council leader Catherine West backs protest over her own cuts

Pledge of support to rally against job losses forced on Town Hall

Published: 17th December, 2010

THE woman forced to make massive Town Hall cuts joined a protest rally outside her office on Wednesday when she assured council staff threatened with redundancy: “We will support you all the way.”
Labour council leader Catherine West, who is democratically accountable for job losses at the Town Hall, blamed the cuts on the government’s axing of £30million revenue expenditure in Islington next year.
Speaking through a loudhailer, she told protesters: “I call on you to come together with union colleagues, Labour councillors, with activists, with members of the public, with all the people who are joining up to our campaign.” She added: “We will be defending public services. We will be defending pensions and our community. We must stand together.”
Her speech won polite applause but she was heckled with cries of “Don’t implement the cuts”, “It’s too little, too late” and “You need us”.
Deputy branch secretary of trade union Unison Mike Calvert told the rally: “The councillors have to defend the people that elected them. The Labour council has to help us mobilise.”
About 300 demonstrators had marched with placards from Highbury Fields to Islington town hall on Wednesday afternoon.
Police closed roads and traffic was brought to a halt during rush-hour.
The demonstration was called by Unison – representing low-paid staff who work for the council, in schools and in the NHS – after details of massive job losses in council departments emerged in confidential documents leaked to the Tribune last week.
Unison branch secretary Jane Doolan describ­ed the cuts brief as a “criminals’ charter”, add­ing that crucial services were being “decimated”.
She said: “We would work with the devil himself to fight these cuts.”
The widespread cuts include:
  • More than 130 jobs axed next year in children’s services, including three-quarters of the Connexions counselling service for hard-to-reach young people.
  • The loss of 40 per cent of social workers at Whittington Hospital, with the rest moved to Upper Street. 
On the march, council workers revealed they had already been told to prepare for redundancy.
Richard Gill, who works in the environmental sustainability section of the Town Hall, found out on Tuesday that he would lose his job as part of 50 per cent cuts to the department.
“I’d lay the blame at the feet of the Con-Dem government but I wish the council had directed the cuts elsewhere,” he said.
“I can only speak for myself but I’m disappointed that the cuts have fallen on the sustainability team. There is not going to be a team of any note.”
Mr Gill, who has worked for the council for four-and-a-half years does not have a job lined up. “I hope to be deployed elsewhere in the council but I think it’s unlikely,” he said.
“It’s not ideal [just before Christmas] but I don’t think it’s deliberate. It’s a bad time whenever.”
Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn compared the “wrong and dishonest” coalition government policies to a bad dream from the Margaret Thatcher era.
“A whole generation paid a price then and there is a generation of children still paying the price now,” he said. Then Mr Corbyn took his hat off, quite literally, to the students and young people “who have marched and showed us the way”.
He added: “I love the health service. We stopped the closure of the casualty and we saved Whittington Hospital. But now GPs are going to decide how NHS money is spent. There will be cuts and redundancies in the health service.”
City and Islington College teacher Ken Muller called for a general strike and students from the London Met university occupation said they would do what they could to “broaden the movement”.

Cuts hit-list: How the axe could fall

Call for debate as leak details threat to services for young and old

Published: 10th December, 2010

A CONFIDENTIAL Town Hall report (CLICK HERE FOR A COPY OF THE REPORT) leaked to the Tribune outlines devastating plans to dismantle public services in Islington.
It warns of increased numbers of children in care, a rise in youth crime and a deterioration in services for elderly and disabled people.
The report drawn up by council officials lists 202 proposals to axe services and increase charges to help the borough live within a budget expected to be drastically reduced by the coalition government in a settlement due to be announced next week.
It is believed the document was seen by Islington Council’s Labour political leadership before being passed to backbench members.
A Town Hall source said: “Whoever leaked it to the press may have done Labour a favour because it will open up the subject to debate.” It is the second leak within a week, following the unauthorised release of a council report listing nearly 300 proposed job cuts.
Ruling Labour councillors will now decide which of the proposals to proceed with before a full council meeting on February 17 finalises next year’s budget. Over the next 10 weeks they are likely to be bombarded by anti-cuts pleas from union branches, service users and community groups.
The leaked document – marked “confidential” – proposes savings and fees increases totalling £22.5million, with more than half the cuts falling on children’s services and the housing and adult social services department. It recommends scaling back payments to foster parents and making redundancies among child protection and hospital social workers and those helping care leavers.
The report warns that this could result in foster parents being unable to cope with difficult children, a potential increase in family breakdown and a rise in the number of children in care. It also says there could be a reduced ability to safeguard unborn children and those in hospital and accident and emergency, and a “deterioration in service to children with disabilities”.
Grants to poorer families for school uniforms are also under threat.
The document proposes reductions in advice and support services for young people, particularly hitting preventative work. It warns of “a likely increase in the rates of young people entering the youth justice system for the first time” and says there could be “no capacity to provide services directly in schools”.
The report also points to a possible increase in the number of young people not in education, employment and training.
It proposes that the elderly and disabled would lose home-help shopping, laundry and cleaning services – and asks the voluntary sector to help out but acknowledges that such organisations might not want to.
Christmas lights may be axed from next year and toilets in Chapel Market in Angel are ­earmarked for closure.
The report warns of likely “negative publicity” resulting from the loss of the lights, toilets and home-help services.
The union shop steward at the Connexions advice service for young people – hardest hit of all in the proposed cuts – warned this week that vulnerable young people are more likely to drop out of school, turn to crime and become homeless without help from him and his colleagues.
Connexions runs teams of youth advisors who specialise in helping young offenders, exclu­ded students, teenage parents, youngsters with learning difficulties and children in care. Forty-four out of 56 Connexions posts are due to be axed, with staff invited to apply for the 12 that would be left under the proposed cuts.
Unison shop steward Dean Ryan said: “The Connexions brand is very recognisable among young people. We engage with them in a different, non-judgemental way as advocates rather than authority figures like police and social workers.
“We help them get jobs, training and housing. Without us, some of them are going to fall through the net.”
Mike Calvert, deputy branch secretary of Islington Unison with responsibility for children’s services, urged the council to save the social work team based at Whittington Hospital in Archway from proposed job cuts. He said a social worker responsible for informing social services about children at risk of domestic violence in neighbouring Haring­ey – where Baby P died – would no longer be employed.
The council is planning to slice about £50m from its budget for next year as the first tranche of cuts in a four-year programme which could see spending reduced by as much as 40 per cent.
The ruling Labour group’s finance chief Cllr Richard Greening said: “There are no finalised plans for the budget and we are doing all we can to stand up for people in Islington, but whatever happens the government cuts forced on Islington will be horrible.”
Government cuts had hit children’s services particularly hard, he said. Under the Labour government they had got lots of special grants.
Lib Dem opposition group leader Councillor Terry Stacy claimed that Labour had needlessly targeted the poor and vulnerable. He mapped out an alternative strategy to protect vital services within available resources.
He recommended large-scale outsourcing of services to voluntary organisations as an alternative, arguing: “They can do it cheaper and better in most cases. The salary levels are lower and they have less overheads and red tape.”
He recommended great­er cuts in the council’s communications department, arguing: “There’ll be more staff in the ‘department of propaganda’ unit than fighting anti-social behaviour in the community safety sections.”
He also slammed increased parking charges, claiming they would hit businesses.
• A march to defend 300 threatened Town Hall jobs will be staged on Wednesday, starting from Highbury Fields at 4pm, and ending with a rally at the Town Hall. The protest was announced by Islington Hands Off Our Public Services Coalition in Holloway on Wednesday. 

Where some of the cuts may fall

Officials have proposed 202 service cuts and increases in fees for services totalling £22.5million, including:  
  • Reductions in services to prevent youth offending, totalling £424,000.
  • No more staff in adventure playgrounds – £63,000.
  • Reductions in cash support, recruitment and guidance for foster parents – £296,000.
  • Abolition of on site social work service at Whittington Hospital – £53,000
  • Deletion of child protection manager post – £88,000.
  • No more council cash for Christmas lights – £45,000.
  • Closure of public toilets in Chapel Market, Angel, and at Old Street with redundancy for attendants – £100,000. 
  • Increases in parking charges, raising £1.4million.
  • Cut in business advice – £40,000.
  • Delete street trading officer post risking return of contraband tobacco vendors at the Nag’s Head, Holloway – £45,000.
  • Stop providing shopping, laundry and cleaning (domestic support) for older people – £150,000.
  • Stop paying for families to visit relatives with learning disabilities in out of borough placements – £10,000.

Leak reveals 282 frontline posts at risk, but only nine in finance

Published: 3 December, 2010

STAFF working with children bear the brunt of job losses 

Children and young people are bearing the main impact of cuts in Town Hall services, a leaked report reveals this week.
Of the 282 staff earmarked for redundancy, 137 work in children’s services – nearly half the total of jobs at risk.
Job cuts in the Labour-run borough are falling 10 times as hard on services for children as they are in its finance department.
The news has appalled Town Hall unions, which said that, while all job cuts were painful, the axe had fallen most cruelly on children and the people who help them.
Islington Unison branch secretary Jane Doolan said: “The council are saying they want to protect the vulnerable but I don’t see any of that here. That doesn’t fit with the reality at all.”
But Labour children and young people chief Richard Watts blamed the Coalition government, claiming: “This is a consequence of savage cuts inflicted on poorer areas like Islington.”
The 137 people lined up for redundancy in children’s services amount to 15 per cent of the department. This compares with nine finance staff facing the axe in a department of 571 – or 1.5 per cent.
Connexions young people’s advice service is the council project hardest hit by the redundancies, with 44 of its 56 staff set to lose their jobs.
The service helps young people to get into jobs and college courses, find homes and access health treatment – especially vulnerable young people, including those leaving council care.
Islington Unison education convenor Rosemary Plummer said:  “Our members in this service support the youth and talk to them at their level and that’s why it works.
“One of the biggest issues in this borough is knife crime and Connexions helps steer young people away from this sort of trouble.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen if the service isn’t there to help.”
Cllr Watts acknowledged the severity of the job cuts but said schools, with control over their own budgets, would be asked to step in to fill gaps.
He insisted that young people with learning difficulties and those in danger of falling into crime would still be helped by Connexions.
But he conceded that Connexions would no longer target other vulnerable young people, known as NEETs – not in employment, education or training.
Four out of six social workers working for child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) will lose jobs under the council’s current plan.
Unison deputy secretary Mike Calvert said: “There will be children and adolescents who are really troubled mentally who’ll just fall right through the system.”
Ten deputy managers at 16 children’s centres are also due to lose their jobs.
Cllr Watts said that the axed children’s services were largely funded by grant to poorer boroughs like Islington from the former Labour government.
“I’m not going to pretend these cuts are painless – they will have quite serious consequences,” he added. “When the government says the cuts won’t effect frontline services, it shows how misleading they are being.”
The leaked report reveals that a total of 136 staff are due to lose their jobs in the council’s other three departments.
Labour council leader Councillor Catherine West stressed that £1.1m savings were expected from redundancies among senior staff earning more than £75,000 a year, although very top staff have been temporarily spared owing to the ditching of the plan to merge their team with Camden Council’s management.
While the council has promised to minimise compulsory job losses, its redundancy policy, also leaked to the Tribune, states: “Requests for voluntary redundancy or early retirement... will not normally be agreed where there are sufficient posts available in the new structure.”

Where cuts will fall

The leaked report reveals total job losses in each of the borough’s five departments as follows:
• 137 out of 903 in children’s services – 15 per cent.
• 89 out of 952 in environment and regeneration – 9 per cent.
• 30 out of 633 in housing and adult social services – 4.5 per cent.
• 17 out of 409 in corporate resources – 4 per cent
• 9 out of 571 in finance – 1.5 per cent
• Total: 282 of 3,468 – 8.1 per cent.

Islington Tribune - by TOM FOOT
Published: 17 April 2009


Call for social workers to spend more time with children in care

A DAMNING report into Islington’s child protection services in the wake of the Baby P abuse scandal has revealed a catalogue of problems including low morale due to heavy workload, poor-quality offices and gaps in training.The Town Hall ordered the review following publication in March of Lord Laming’s investigation into safeguarding children.
The council report, which will be discussed by councillors on Monday, raises serious concerns that heavy caseloads mean Islington social workers are not spending enough time with children in care.
The Haringey social worker at the centre of the Baby P case, Maria Ward, was reportedly struggling to cope with 18 child protection cases at the time of the toddler’s death.
Union officials have criticised Islington Council for failing to provide proper administrative support to its social workers.
David Worlock, the council’s assistant director of children’s services, will reveal his findings to a Town Hall committee on Monday.
His report states: “Although the caseloads of Islington social workers are not excessive, it is clearly the case that the quality of work and the morale of staff would improve if caseloads were lower. For example, those working with looked-after children would be able to spend more time in direct contact with children, which is something children want.”
The 10-page report recommends a review of social workers’ pay and the introduction of a better training system. It adds: “There is need for all children’s services in Islington to review training on child development to ensure all relevant staff receive it to the correct level – which is probably not the case now.”
Islington currently has 87 per cent of its social worker posts filled by permanent staff.
The rest are employed on a temporary basis through agencies.
The report raises concerns that social workers have been working in “poorer physical conditions” from a temporary building in Essex Road since the looked-after children team was set up in 2008.
Mike Calvert, deputy branch secretary of Islington Unison, which represents social workers, said: “We are obviously very concerned about this. Many of the problems associated with social workers are across the board and not just in Islington. The main problem I would say is that there is a lot of administration when it comes to children’s cases.
“Of course, we would like there to be more staff to support our members with the administrative work. I don’t think we could have another Baby P in Islington, but you can never be sure.”
Baby P died in August 2007 after suffering horrific abuse in the home. The child had been seen more than 60 times by social workers and medical staff before his death.

Targets so oppressive

• TOM Foot’s article two weeks ago seemed to stir a huge hornets’ nest (Child protection: morale high, workloads safe, April 24). It is indeed interesting to see Labour and Lib Dem councillors defending the children’s services management structure when, in fact, we are quite clear that for Unison members there are issues that are clearly problem areas in the department.These are:
• Paperwork and administrative support. Paperwork means people have little time to work with children and families.
• Long- and short-term casework. It is hard to juggle these differing priorities and long-term work suffers as a result.
• Morale. Councillor Paul Convery says this is high but I am not convinced. There are pockets where this is true and others where it is not.
• Target-driven performance indicators. The atmosphere has been one of senior managers being pushed, and then team managers pushed by senior managers and social work staff by team managers. This has led to an oppressive atmosphere that needs seriously addressing.
It is Unison’s view that there needs to be a more open and social work-driven environment rather than one inspired by deadlines, performance indicators and targets.
That is why Unison is pushing our 10-point charter for social workers in children’s services.
Deputy branch secretary, Islington Unison

Most of the above are from the Islington Tribune

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