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EXCLUSIVE: Strike action proposed by city workers left at ‘breaking point’ as housing arrears and homelessness surge

.Aberdeen City Council HQ, Marischal College in Broad Street.CR0015274 Marischal College Locator of The fountain at Marischal College, Aberdeen.

Scores of “overworked” Aberdeen City Council employees could be set to strike after a surge in north-east housing arrears and homelessness has left many staff “at breaking point”.

Cuts to housing services have resulted in a dispute between the council and workers who say they are under “mounting pressure” to manage an increased workload created by a rise in housing arears and a rise in homeless numbers within Aberdeen.

It is understood around 40 Unite Union housing and support officers will take part in an industrial action ballot in May – with a strike scheduled weeks later if the vote is supported by members.

New figures show rent arrears have risen from £2.6 million in 2015-16 to £7.9m in 2020-21 within the Aberdeen city local authority area.

Scottish Government figures also reveal that the city had 1,486 homeless applications in 2019-20, up from 1,285 in 2015-16.

Unite Union claims that the rise in housing arrears is “directly related” to the widespread economic disruption caused to the Aberdeen economy by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It also believes that Aberdeen City Council  has introduced swinging and “deep cuts to the service at the moment when housing support services are in greatest need for the public”.

John Boland, Unite industrial officer, said: “Unite’s members in the housing services department in Aberdeen City Council have reached breaking point.

“The workers have taken on a massive increase in their workload particularly over the last year of the pandemic as city residents have faced increased financial pressures.

“This has resulted in an understandable and entirely predictable increase in housing arears.

“Aberdeen City Council’s response has been to cut the service to those in the greatest need of help, while piling on even more pressure onto the workers.

“Ultimately, the residents of Aberdeen are being given a poorer service so this fight is not just about our members, it’s about the people of Aberdeen who need more support.”

The Press and Journal understands the strike ballot for workers will open on May 10 and close on May 24, with a potential strike in the middle of June.

An Aberdeen City Council spokesman said: “It is disappointing that Unite is to ballot its members on strike action in the midst of a consultation on redesigning services to better serve our customers, including our most vulnerable residents.

“Every local authority faces challenges as income continues to contract and demand rises, and we deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The majority of our housing staff have engaged positively on the proposals that seek to increase headcount and considerably reduce the average tenancy workload per officer, and make it easier for customers to access vital support in years ahead.

“We are transforming services through investment in our staff and remain committed to working constructively with union colleagues in shaping plans that promise to benefit customers and staff alike.”

Kevin Stewart, SNP candidate for Aberdeen Central, added: “I hope that this matter can be resolved without strike action.

“I would urge Aberdeen City Council to listen to their staff and follow the lead of many other councils, who have bolstered their frontline services during the pandemic period, to protect the most vulnerable in our society.”

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