Cllr Ruth Mersereau
Cllr Ruth Mersereau

A councillor has been removed from a council committee for supporting trade unions against job cuts being driven by Sheffield’s Labour Administration.

Sheffield Council’s administration is proposing to make job cuts amongst specialist planning staff, including those working on disability access, heritage conservation and dangerous structures. Trade Unions had lodged a “collective dispute” on their behalf and it was heard by a panel of two elected councillors – one Labour and one Green.

After hearing a full day of evidence, the Green Party councillor, Ruth Mersereau, decided that the trade union’s case was made out and the council management’s wasn’t. However, the council management issued a “decision letter” to unions, saying that the panel had agreed to continue with the staff restructure. When Ruth Mersereau asked for this letter to be retracted, no response was received. She therefore notified the unions directly on 26th November that she supported their case and the purported decision letter did not reflect the views of the panel.

Subsequently, Cllr Mersereau was informed by the Administration that she had been removed from the panel as a result.

Cllr Mersereau said,

“Having heard over seven hours of evidence and witness testimony at the panel meeting, I realised that these catastrophic job losses were not just unnecessary, but would have a devastating impact on Planning staff, on the safety of the public and on Sheffield’s landscape.”

Councillor Douglas Johnson, leader of the Green group of councillors, added,

“It is a bad sign when the Administration wants to get rid of experienced staff and divert more resources to supporting major commercial developers at the expense of smaller businesses, householders, disabled people and the general public. It is worse still when council processes are manipulated to thwart the decisions of elected members that do not sit well with the Administration.

In this case, HR staff have falsified the views of elected members to issue the Administration’s preferred decision, despite it explicitly not being agreed by the panel.

I have called for disciplinary action to be taken. The Council’s governance system desperately needs reform. Although the 15 members of the “Appeals and Collective Disputes Committee” are politically
proportionate to the number of seats held by each party, the sub-committee members are hand-picked from this pool by the management.”

Notes

  1. Up to 41.8 full-time equivalent jobs are at stake
  2. The original Collective Dispute Panel met on 22 nd October 2019. The Chair of the meeting was absent so it proceeded with just 2 councillors, Cllr Ruth Mersereau and Cllr Jackie Satur. Council staff issued the “decision letter” on 30 th October despite Cllr Mersereau withholding her agreement to it.
  3. Cllr Satur was removed from the Committee at the full Council meeting on 6th November 2019, leaving Cllr Mersereau as the only member of the committee who had heard the oral evidence.
  4. The text of Cllr Mersereau’s explanation to the unions on 26th November 2019 is:
    “I am writing in respect of the Collective Dispute and the letter of 30 October 2019, which has been said to contain the decision of the Panel.I would like to make clear that I explicitly have not agreed to the decision, that I have not consented to it being issued in my name and that I have asked management to retract it.

    I note this request has not been accepted. Only Councillor Satur agreed to the letter going out and to the process continuing.

    I would also like to confirm that, having listened to the evidence of the seven witnesses, the unions and management, that I fully accept the Trade Union case and reject the management case. In particular, I note that management declined to provide adequate evidence of a business case in support of the proposal to make workers redundant.

    I have also expressed my disappointment that the whole day proceeded on the basis of officers’ advice that the principle of job cuts had already been decided by elected members. After further probing, it appears that this is not the case. In my view, this is fundamental to the scope of the panel’s decision.

    In the circumstances, I cannot support the Administration’s proposal for redundancies.

    Since the letter of 30 October 2019 did not accurately reflect the decision of the panel, I would ask that you note this and convey this message to all staff affected by this dispute.”

  5. Cllr Mersereau was notified she was removed from the sub-committee on 3rd December 2019.

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