Ryeview – June 2006

Ryedale District Council needs a Personnel Committee

John Clark writes…

First published: June 2006 – Gazette & Herald

Unloved, unwanted and ignored. These must be the emotions of many of the employees of Ryedale District Council. Some of us thought that in 1997 the millions on the dole, workers thought of as just numbers and peoples emotions trampled on were behind us. No, Thatcherism is alive and well and living in Ryedale.

On Thursday 18th May RDC managed to abuse many of its employees. It was a return debate to remove the Revenue and Benefits from the Council. Spurious figures were wheeled out before the meeting. They claimed that Housing Benefit employees at RDC were 40.34% less efficient than Hambleton District Council. Not a figure that accurately describes the picture, not a figure that describes the hard working Ryedale employees, but a figure that claims an accuracy of 1 in a 1000 despite being wrong. What effect would this have on morale? How could this lift the morale of other departments? The mover of the motion even muttered the name of the next possible group of people to be hived off. There was an attitude of ‘Its only 8 jobs’, ‘it’s more efficient and therefore it must be right.’ Although it was not said the message was clear – the employees can take it or leave it.

The worst kinds of partnerships are those forced on local government by the use of financial levers, threats and bribes. This partnership fits this description. Tory councillors on RDC and their fellow travellers should realise that being bullied by Blair’s government does not justify or excuse them doing the same to RDC workers.

Tory councillors claim the partnership is ‘efficient’. There are two main weaknesses in their argument.

  • The figures used were…..(for legal reasons I’m nervous of completing the sentence!) Some of us ‘forced’ the council to admit the figures were wrong. This was not followed by a withdrawal of the motion, embarrassment, or even a tiny little sorry.
  • No one even mentioned the ‘cost’ of a reduction in morale of the workers. Not just the cost across Rev and Ben workers but the cost of a reduction in morale across most of the workers at RDC.

What is the solution? Apart from the obvious first step of binning the partnership there is a need to create a trust between the ‘Council’ and its employees. In 2003 a survey showed that ‘staff lack confidence in elected members….’ And ‘staff do not feel members value their experience or skills’.

Nothing was proposed, nothing was done and guess what? Nothing changed. The 2004 survey showed the same. In 2005 the Policy committee considered:

  • A Personnel sub-committee
  • A ‘Link Member’ to work with Human Resources on an appropriate action plan for member/staff relations in the future.

‘The proposed new committee was not widely supported’. Lindsay Burr was appointed as Staff Issues Member Champion. As far as I can see she has done her best. It is however totally unrealistic to expect one councillor, however diligent, to single-handedly create good employer/employee relations.

A Personnel sub-committee is needed to represent all political groups on the Council and must include at least four union representatives. This sub-committee must start work as a matter of urgency to reverse the downward spiral in the morale of RDC employees. If it doesn’t the ‘cost’ will be immense both financially and in service to the people of Ryedale.

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