OPEN LETTER TO IAN STEWART SALFORD CITY MAYOR
Dear Mr Mayor
Over the past week you have made two very public, very thinly veiled attacks on the Salford Star, accusing this community publication of "lies".
Both at last week's Full Council Meeting and at the East Salford Community Committee you stood up and said in no uncertain words that it was "lies" that the Council is going sack and re-employ its workers if they don't accept a new pay and grading structure.
And it was "lies" that you were closing mental health drop-in sessions without consultation. Indeed, it was a "disgrace" to claim that you had issued redundancy notices to community care workers employed at the mental health drop-in groups.
Charm offensives aside, let's take these accusations one at a time…
1) That the Council is going sack and re-employ its workers if they don't accept a new pay and grading structure…
Now, we might not be very bright but guess what? We can read. And it states quite clearly twice in your Pay and Grading Consultation Report, that if Council workers don't agree to the new pay structure they will be dismissed. It states it first on Page 3…
"This proposal [for the new pay model] will continue to be the subject of ongoing discussions with the trade unions in an attempt to secure a collective agreement. In the event that this is not possible, the council will attempt to secure a consensual variation to contract and ultimately revert to dismissal and offer of re-engagement where necessary."
In case you haven't read the document, it states it again on page 5…
"In the event that the amendment to contract cannot be achieved via a collective agreement all affected employees will be issued with notice of dismissal from their current contract but will be offered immediate re-engagement/employment on the revised terms."
The Salford Star read this as a threat. And the trade unions representing Salford Council workers certainly read it as a threat, issuing a statement accusing you of "bully boy tactics, especially from a Labour Council".
Indeed a meeting of almost 200 UNISON members in October voted to "instigate an industrial action ballot of all UNISON members affected by these proposals" if the Council refused to withdraw the document and "lift the threat of dismissal notices".
So where's the "lies" Mr Mayor? It's there in black and white. Would you like us to repeat it? "In the event that the amendment to contract cannot be achieved via a collective agreement all affected employees will be issued with notice of dismissal from their current contract…"
2) That it was "lies" you were closing mental health drop-in sessions without consultation. Indeed, it was a "disgrace" to claim that you had issued redundancy notices to community care workers employed at the mental health drop-in groups.
First off, nobody actually claimed you were closing drop-in sessions. What was claimed is that you were running a consultation with no option of keeping the present arrangements, therefore making it a `sham'.
What was also claimed was that "staff have been told that three community care workers' posts will be axed", in effect making their posts redundant. In effect, sacking them from their current jobs. At the time of writing, UNISON also stated, "two workers are facing redundancy".
The Salford Star has actually obtained a copy of a Mayor's Briefing, written by your own staff…
"After the consultation with staff, we made slight changes to the way we organise services and have deleted three posts, one of which is currently vacant."
That's the deletion of three posts before the service users consultation has ended. That's three posts made redundant, two of which were occupied by community care workers.
Your briefing goes on to state that "We are working to redeploy the two members of staff affected and no-one has been given notice of redundancy."
No, but the posts themselves are redundant and those workers were given notice that their posts were being made redundant, or `deleted' as your officers like to phrase it.
To say that the Star has been telling "lies" is totally splitting hairs, Mr Mayor. Perhaps you should be concentrating on what the service users themselves are saying about the state of their drop-ins…
…They have had to confront you at `Democracy Day' with banners accusing you of `Broken Promises' to protect the most vulnerable people in the city.
They have had to take their banners to London on an anti ConDem Government march to tell the country what is happening in Salford. They have had to stage a protest outside the Labour Party Conference. They have had to meet the leader of the Labour Party himself, Ed Miliband, to beg him to have a word with you. Which he did.
And, ultimately, they have had to occupy Salford Council chamber itself last week just to get a meeting with you. You even had to apologise publicly for "not being as responsive as I should have been".
Do not try to shoot the messenger, Mr Mayor. Cheap political soundbites aimed at discrediting the Salford Star will do you no favours, and does not take away the reality of what is happening in Salford.
The Salford Star gave you the opportunity to be interviewed and to put any perceived wonky records straight. You have so far declined to accept that invitation.
Instead, Salford Council - perhaps on your instructions – has not answered any of Salford Star's questions or requests for comments for the past month and more. We asked if there's an official boycott on the Salford Star. We got a reply stating that there was no boycott. But there are still 13 Salford Star questions unanswered, ranging from affordable housing to black cab ranks.
Is this your way of running a city, Mr Mayor?
One of the reasons the Salford Star was founded was that we didn't want to live in China.
Every single so-called `community media' in Salford is now either politically controlled or financially backed by Salford Council, with virtually no criticism of you or your policies. The totally independent Salford Star doesn't believe that this is healthy.
Indeed, we almost wept at your speech in the House of Commons, back in 2007 when you were still an MP…
"Community media are particularly effective in engaging and serving some of the most disadvantaged groups in our society" you said "It provides a voice for many people who are disengaged and excluded from traditional media… They…act as a platform for arts innovation, for community debate, and for communication with local and national government, thereby increasing social cohesion and community involvement in the democratic process and in citizenship."
Oh how quickly you forget...
You can try to discredit us, Mr Mayor, but ultimately we aren't going anywhere. We reserve the right to hold you and your Council up to account. We reserve the right to give voice to Salford residents who oppose your proposals. And we reserve the right to mock you if we feel you deserve it. You're getting paid enough to take it.
With attitude and chickens