Majority Of Care Staff Go To Work As Council Workers Strike Over Cuts

Schools, nurseries and community centres across the Capital were closed yesterday as thousands of council workers went out on strike. Eleventh-hour talks between council chiefs and union leaders over plans for swingeing service cuts and possible redundancies broke down.

Public sector union Unison was unsuccessful in demanding assurances that the council would avoid any compulsory redundancies. But the two sides agreed to round-table talks early next week.

Council officials were expected to be asked for fresh proposals to reduce the impact of any budget cuts on elderly and disabled people. Just short of half the council workforce joined in the strike – around 8500 employees.

Picket lines were in place across the city, including outside the council headquarters, as pressure mounted on the Lib Dem-SNP coalition running the council. Union leaders said most libraries in the city were closed, as well as many housing and social work offices and the council tax headquarters at Chesser House. There was also minimal cover in residential care homes.

Princes Street Gardens was open, but the City Art Centre, the Assembly Rooms and the Usher Hall were among the high-profile venues due to be picketed. Union leaders predicted a BBC Symphony Orchestra concert at the Usher Hall and Fringe shows at the Assembly Rooms may have to be cancelled. But both venues said they expected the shows would go ahead.

The city council said 122 schools and community centres were hit by the strikes. Fourteen nurseries, 15 primary schools, and one secondary school, Wester Hailes Education Centre, were closed.

A further eight nurseries, 20 primaries and seven high schools were partially closed. Children who eat school meals were encouraged to take packed lunches by the council. Disruption to the city’s school crossing and waste collection services was avoided, however.

Meanwhile, six social work centres were expected to close, while only partial openings were expected at another six. However, the council said 77 per cent of staff in the health and social care department turned up for work today. The council said 29 community centres were likely to be hit, but the St Bride’s Centre, at Dalry, and the Southside Community Centre were to stay open.

A major demonstration was held outside the City Chambers, where various groups mounted angry protests against school closure plans, threats to the future of Meadowbank Stadium and Glenogle Baths, and the massive Caltongate development. Council figures show there would be a £25 million overspend this financial year without any cost-cutting. The main areas expected to be hit are health and social care, and education.

Labour’s finance spokesman Ian Perry said: “The budget cuts the council has been looking at are completely unnecessary. Additional money can be realised by selling council assets to EDI – the council’s property company.”

Council leader Jenny Dawe said: “There were several useful aspects to our discussions with Unison this afternoon, and we will continue talking with them.”

Finance spokesman Gordon Mackenzie said: “No council will ever give a cast-iron commitment that compulsory redundancies will never happen, but I’m very hopeful that any can be avoided.”

Unison spokesman John Stevenson said: “Today is a shot across the bows saying, here we are out for one day, we hope you will change your minds. But if not, we are ready for further action.”