UNIONS are balloting over strike action against Coventry council proposals to close children’s centres across the city.
They are warning of industrial action among children’s services staff, unless the council sits down for talks over proposals which they warn could harm vulnerable people and child protection work.
The GMB union says the plans for more shared services in communities would amount to the closure of 14 children’s centres, with 100 job losses among some of the lowest paid staff.
Labour-run Coventry City Council is currently consulting on the proposals.
It has maintained for years such frontline service budget reductions are the inevitable result of heavy government funding cuts to councils since 2010.
But Tory opposition councillors have claimed Labour leaders should do more to protect children’s centres, widely expanded nationwide by the previous Labour government.
Coventry’s children’s services has recently been judged by Ofsted as ‘requires improvement’ after years of being in special measures following the death of schoolboy Daniel Pelka.
GMB members were served their notice today, after an emergency union meeting with around 150 members in children’s services yesterday.
It says the proposals include plans to close 14 centres and create four family hubs; the ending of all council run nursery provision and changes to job roles.
Justine Jones, GMB Organiser, said: “As a result of issues around the proposals and how the consultation process has been undertaken a number of GMB members raised concerns through the council’s grievance procedure.
“The council has refused to hear these.
“GMB has also raised numerous formal disputes regarding these issues, but again the council has also refused to hear these.
“Some GMB members have been served their notice today before the end of consultation, this is happening to some of the lowest paid employees of the council who are predominately part time women workers.
“GMB members are extremely upset and frustrated. They are worried about their jobs and the future of the services they provide. They currently believe that the service they work in and the proposed new structure does not safeguard the most vulnerable children of Coventry.
“The last thing our members want to do is to take industrial action, but they will not stand by as their issues are ignored.
“While GMB remains committed to trying to work with the council to find an agreed way forward, we can only do this if the council agrees to sit down and listen to us and address the concerns of our members.”
Stuart Richards, GMB Senior Organiser, added: “The Tory cuts to council funding are placing massive pressures on how services are funded and delivered.
“GMB will continue to work both nationally and locally to highlight the damage being done to the public sector.
“In the meantime, the only way councils are going to be able to continue to provide essential front line services is by listening to the people who actually deliver the services.
“GMB will continue to fight to make sure this happens.”
Under proposals discussed earlier this year, eight children’s centres in Bell Green, Foleshill, Tile Hill, Radford, Moat House, Middle Ride, Gosford Park and Hillfields would become family hubs, providing a range of services for 0 to 19-year-olds (including nursery provision if it can be delivered by schools or independent nursery providers instead of the council).
John Gregg, Director of Children’s Services at Coventry City Council, said:
“Possible plans regarding children centres and the creation of eight family hubs are part of a wider set of proposals regarding children’s services that are currently out to consultation with staff.
“These form part of our wider Connecting Communities programme which has been consulted with the public in the past and this feedback has helped to inform our proposals.
“The proposal would see eight of the 14 children centres become family hubs offering help and support for new-born babies up until those aged 19. The other buildings could be taken over by schools or private, voluntary or independent organisations to offer nursery provision.
“Indeed, we have extended the consultation period so can have more time talking to schools about alternative provision.
“It is disappointing GMB, unlike other unions, has not engaged fully in the consultation process to date and we are waiting for their response to the change documents.
“With the consultation still ongoing, it is not possible to say what the eventual outcome will be but we remain committed to ensuring the best possible outcomes for young people in our city.”