14 years of the Tories – local government

UNISON’s national secretaries reflect on the disastrous effect of Conservative government on their sectors

UNISON head of local government Mike Short on why councils and council workers are ‘in the depths of crisis’

The last 14 years have seen the local government sector hollowed out by a Conservative government that has no interest in local democracy or local services.

Local government has long struggled for proper recognition for the vital work that it does. Unless you need a social worker, library or a youth centre, you may not notice what’s happened to these services under the Tories.

But UNISON’s research and the experience of our members is clear. Since 2010, 1,243 youth centres have been closed in England and Wales, removing a vital source of support for young people. Social workers have been left over-worked and struggling to keep up with demand, leaving the most vulnerable members of local communities in real trouble. And 877 public libraries have disappeared, depriving people of an essential community hub for learning.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought home to many people how vital their councils actually are. It was council workers who stepped in to provide test and trace services, deliver food parcels to older people, and ensure we all have safe, open spaces.

But the government refuses to accept this and has continued to slash the funding available for councils.

The result has been the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in local government. And like in so many other public services, the staff are the service. Without housing workers, there’s no housing service, for example; without environmental health and trading standards officers, our localities and the products we buy aren’t safe.

There is wide acceptance that pay rates in local government are too low. Under the Tories, there’s been a race to the bottom – with the bottom rate of pay hovering around the legal minimum wage. Workers’ standard of living has plummeted, with the real value of local government pay falling by more than 25% since 2010.

Where has all this left us? In the depths of crisis. With our services in tatters, one council after another declaring itself effectively bankrupt, staff angry and demoralised – striving to provide high-quality services while struggling to make enough to provide for themselves and their families.

We’re at a a crossroads in the history of local government in the UK. The general election will determine whether or not we take the right path.

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