Unison begins formal dispute with Northamptonshire County Council

An earlier Unison demonstration outside the county hall in Northampton.
An earlier Unison demonstration outside the county hall in Northampton.

A union that represents Northamptonshire County Council staff has entered into a formal dispute with the council, claiming the authority is not consulting as it is legally required to do.

The Northamptonshire union branch says by entering into a formal process it hopes the council will be forced to enter talks and negotiate with them.

Again this month the cash-strapped council has confirmed that a pay rise pledge will not be coming forward as there is not enough money.

Unison says the final straw has been a recent decision by the council to employ four new costly assistant directors without union consultation.

Kev Standishday, Unison branch secretary, said: “The crisis in Northamptonshire County Council is well known. The trade unions have repeatedly offered to work with the council to find solutions and yet they are continuing to make decisions behind closed doors. They are refusing to use the expertise of staff and the trade unions who represent them to solve the problems they are facing.”

The branch – which represents a large number of the council’s 4,000 staff, has the backing of other unions such as the GMB, the National Education Union, NASUWT and the Association of Educational Psychologists.

Unison says it meets the chief executive and other senior figures at the council on a quarterly basis and has raised the issue of consultation but does not feel like its calls are being listened to.

By entering into a formal dispute the council will be obliged to form a sub-group to address the concerns. The last time it entered a formal dispute was in 2016.

In March last year a Government a report raised serious questions about the governance and financial management of Northamptonshire County Council, describing a systematic failure at the council. The report described a culture of secrecy and lack of scrutiny in the decision-making at the county council.

As a result of its problems the county authority is to be abolished in 2021 and merged with the surrounding district and borough councils to form two new unitary authorities.

Mr Standishday said: “The county council needs to work in partnership to deliver the best for Northamptonshire. They have a legal obligation to consult with staff and at the moment they are not doing it. We feel the council are paying lip service to consultation at a crucial time for staff and residents with the county council being abolished and two new unitary councils being created.”

A spokesman for the council said: “We are in the process of reviewing the information that has been submitted by the trade unions and will be in contact with them directly to discuss their concerns.

“We spend a great deal of time working with trade unions and are committed to resolving issues amicably.”

The latest auditors’ report show that Northamptonshire County Council continues to be in severe financial difficulties. The council, which overspent by £35m in 2017/18, is predicting a £5.4m overspend this financial year.