A local authority has been urged to abandon enter “constructive talks” to end an ongoing dispute with social workers.
The GMB called on Swindon council to take a “less confrontational” approach to help settle the pay dispute that saw emergency duty service (EDS) practitioners take strike action in late August and September.
The union also warned that the authority was at risk of lacking sufficient approved mental health professional cover out of hours because of the departure of two AMHPs from the EDS, in an open letter to Swindon’s lead councillors for social care, issued last week.
Strike action paused over safety concerns
Practitioners paused the action last month over concerns that urgent calls were not being responded to in their absence, putting vulnerable adults and children at risk.
The authority has issued staff with an offer that it said would leave them at least £3,000 a year better off, despite the dispute having been triggered by the removal of an emergency payment worth £8,400 annually.
But while the GMB said the proposed settlement was “broadly acceptable”, it claimed that the money was not guaranteed and could be withdrawn at any point, and that social workers needed binding assurances.
However, the council has rejected this, saying the money is assured, leading to an impasse between the two sides.
Call for ‘less confrontational’ approach
“This is no longer about money, and we have written to the council because we believe the solution is within reach, but it will require a change in approach to something a lot less confrontational than it is at present,” said GMB branch secretary Andy Newman.
“By failing to seek a solution the council is acting to the detriment of clients and service users. We need Swindon Council need to meet us for constructive talks because the service is already struggling after the loss of highly skilled, specialist mental health practitioners.”
In the letter to Paul Dixon and Ray Ballman, Swindon’s cabinet members, Newman claimed “the intransigent attitude of council officers and the lack of urgency has led to a steep drop
of morale by EDS staff” and the departure of two AMHPs.
Warning over AMHP cover
The Mental Health Act 1983 code of practice states that councils are responsible for ensuring there are sufficient AMHPs to carry out their roles under the MHA and “should have arrangements in place in their area to provide a 24-hour service that can respond to patients’ needs”.
Newman said that Swindon “could no longer guarantee that”, in the open letter.
“Previously, four of the seven strong team were AMHPs, and when a non-AMPH was on shift, an informal cover arrangement was in place,” he wrote.
“The situation is that there are now only two AMPHs, and no formal arrangement in place for AMPH cover. The informal arrangement is stretched beyond breaking point.
‘Council officers have acted with integrity’
In response, Swindon deputy leader Emma Bushell said: “Our officers have acted with integrity and professionalism at all times during negotiations with the GMB.”
Bushell, who is also cabinet member for organisational oversight, added: “We have addressed the main issue of pay surrounding this dispute and we are keen to find a solution to the latest points raised by the GMB so our valued staff can move on from this current situation.”