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Public services in Scotland under ‘attack’ from ministers, union leader says

Union chiefs say public services are under ‘attack’ by the Scottish Government – with Unison claiming ‘Scotland has to brace itself for a cut in public services’ (PA)
Union chiefs say public services are under ‘attack’ by the Scottish Government – with Unison claiming ‘Scotland has to brace itself for a cut in public services’ (PA)

Union chiefs say public services are under “attack” by the Scottish Government – with Unison claiming “Scotland has to brace itself for a cut in public services”.

Lilian Macer, the union’s Scottish secretary, accused the Scottish Government of “unacceptable behaviour” as she claimed Deputy First Minister Shona Robison’s budget statement has left workers across the public sector worried that jobs “maybe on the line”.

Ms Robison, who announced a budget that included tax rises for higher earners days before Christmas, insisted then that the Government is “supporting public services, including those delivered by councils”.

The Deputy First Minister, who is also Scottish Finance Secretary, promised councils more than £140 million to compensate them for freezing council tax next year – less than half the £300 million that the local government body Cosla said was the minimum needed.

But with the Scottish Government having to deal with a £1.5 billion funding black hole for the coming year, Ms Robison was clear that public services can not continue to be delivered “in traditional ways”.

In response, Ms Macer said: “The Unison message to Shona Robison is: which valuable public services do you want Unison members to stop providing?”

The union leader, who was speaking on The Sunday Show on BBC Radio Scotland, added: “Politicians need to be honest about what they are saying. Shrinking the public services means a cut in public services and a cut in jobs”.

Ms Macer challenged the Deputy First Minister to “get round the table and discuss what it is you actually mean” instead of “threatening” public sector workers over the festive period and “saying jobs need to go”.

Unison has not been contacted about the impact the budget statement could have on public sector jobs in Scotland, Ms Macer added.

“We have not had any call from the Cabinet Secretary before any of the announcements,” she said.

“We will again be contacting the Scottish Government in the New Year to say that our position is we need to invest in public services, invest in the people who deliver them, to make sure that our communities are safe.”

Lilian Macer said Unison wants to see public services grow (PA)

But Ms Macer said: “The challenge for us right now is we have got a council tax freeze that the Scottish Government announced without any reference to local authorities.”

Adding that Cosla had complained of a “significant shortfall” in the money being made available to councils to compensate them for this, the Unison Scottish secretary said this could lead to cuts in public services and jobs.

She said: “They will have to cut because they need to balance their budget. And to balance their budget they need to stop services and that means jobs.”

Ms Macer insisted the budget statement “meant that basically Scotland has to brace itself for a cut in public services”.

She added: “The Scottish Government are now looking to attack public services in terms of how they are delivered, but also that workforce.”

The Unison leader refused to speculate on how many jobs could be impacted across the public sector workforce.

But she added: “What the Scottish Government have done over the last two weeks is to start worrying those public sector workers that quite frankly have delivered the highest quality of public services over a number of years.

“When you go back to the Covid years, they have gone from hero to zero, they have went from the frontline to the breadline.

“That is unacceptable behaviour from the Scottish Government. They should be picking the phone up, they should be calling the unions, we should be having that discussion without worrying those members of staff that are delivering those services.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Ministers have set out in the Scottish budget that they will work in partnership with trade unions to ensure our services remain fiscally sustainable and improve outcomes for the people and communities that need them most.

“This approach will be underpinned by a continued commitment to the policy of no compulsory redundancies.

“Creating financially sustainable person-centred public services is one of our key priorities. That’s why we are working across the public sector to reform services, ensuring workforces are sustainable, efficient and meet the needs of the people of Scotland.

“We have been proud to support pay deals for public sector workers that reflect the vital jobs that they do. On average, public sector pay in Scotland is around 6% more than the rest of the UK.”