London, UK, May 1, 2019 -- Plans to axe dozens more jobs risk worsening an already "toxic" environment in Haringey Council’s customer services team, union officials have warned.
Councillors were told further job cuts would pile more pressure on members of staff already struggling to cope with high workloads – and that could have a knock-on effect on benefits claimants and other service users.
The council has already been forced to almost halve its workforce after having millions of pounds wiped off its budget over the past nine years due to Government cost-cutting measures.
It is now planning to save a further £4.25 million over two years by axing another 62 full-time equivalent jobs amid an ongoing shift to online customer self-service.
Officers leading the restructure claim it will lead to improvements in the way the council interacts with residents.
But representatives from trade union Unison warned councillors at the overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday (April 30) against worsening an already "toxic" working environment.
Gerard McGrath, joint branch secretary at Haringey Unison, said many staff members were already "bruised" from a previous round of job cuts.
He said: "There has been an increase since the last restructure in stress levels and people wanting to go off sick.
"Many people are working two jobs, in effect.
"In some areas, the demand for services has stayed at a particular level, but the ability to respond has been weakened significantly by cuts."
Mr McGrath told councillors members of the contact centre team would welcome an opportunity to work from home "because it is such a fractious, toxic working environment at the moment".
Benefits appeals officer at Haringey Council and fellow Unison member Maggie Griffin said the roll-out of Universal Credit – the Government’s welfare reform scheme – could have a big impact on workloads.
She said there was an increasing number of people applying for benefits and saying they could not pay their rent due to Universal Credit.
Cllr Ruth Gordon, Labour member for Tottenham Hale, said: "I am concerned from what I am hearing about the fact that we have got staff already under stress going to be put under an increased amount of stress.
"The point about Universal Credit also concerns me. I don’t think we have been hit by the impact of this yet. I think it is coming at us like an enormous tsunami."
Andy Briggs, assistant director of corporate and customer services, told the committee that customer services would improve despite the job losses.
He said: "At the heart of this, it is about making interactions with customers easier and focusing on those with the greatest need.
"It is not about standing down face-to-face services and telephony in their entirety. It is about focusing on what is most needed."
Belinda Black, interim programme director, pointed out that the number of planned staff cuts had been reduced from more than 100 to 62.
She added that more than half would be achieved by leaving positions vacant after people leave their posts.
The programme will see more cuts to agency staff than permanent workers, while many of the cutbacks will be made to management roles.
Ms Black said some of the reductions could come from people working reduced hours rather than losing their jobs altogether.
Committee chair and Labour member for Woodside Cllr Lucia das Neves told Mr Briggs to come back with an update in July.
She said: "I would like to see staff informing what is happening as members of the programme – and how we are using their knowledge, expertise and awareness.
"We would like to hear more about how that engagement is taking place and how the staff who remain have an adequate programme of support.
"We would like to see a bit more about learning from the past."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
Published: Friday, May 3, 2019
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