Legal guardians may quit or strike if financial crisis prevents pay rise

 A financial crisis has left the Children and Family Court Advisory
and Support Service facing industrial action, an exodus of
self-employed guardians and more case delays, writes
Mithran Samuel

Chief executive Anthony Douglas has ordered a string of emergency
measures – including a freeze on non-essential recruitment
and delays to an IT upgrade – and has asked the government
for £2m to balance the organisation’s books.

In a letter last month to junior children’s minister Maria
Eagle, leaked to Community Care, Douglas said the problem
stemmed from increased demand in London and the North East.

But he said the government’s failure to increase
Cafcass’s grant in line with inflation this year had meant
2005-6 “was going to be a difficult year”.

The union Napo, which represents family court staff, called for the
National Audit Office to investigate Cafcass’s finances to
determine whether the problem was under-funding or

Without the money, Cafcass may not be able to offer staff a pay
rise sufficient to prevent industrial action and stop self-employed
practitioners leaving the service. Pay negotiations are yet to

Douglas told Community Care  that backlogs, which he has
successfully reduced, would “start to rise again” on
current projections.
The £2m he is asking for reflects grant money not used in
2004-5, but Eagle has so far failed to respond to his

A Department for Education and Skills spokesperson refused to
comment on the request, but added: “The budget of £107m
represents a 12.6 per cent increase from 2003-4 to 2005-6.”

Cafcass is meeting Napo and Unison next week to discuss the

Napo’s assistant general secretary, Harry Fletcher, said:
“If this matter is not resolved within the next few weeks
then a ballot for industrial action seems inevitable.”

Alison Paddle, chair of Nagalro, the professional association
representing guardians, said: “Self-employed practitioners
will take their skills and their expertise elsewhere to the
detriment of the service.”

Douglas said a poor pay settlement would not support “my
long-term aspiration to serve children well”, and said he
hoped to give staff a cost-of-living increase.

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