John Stevenson: This is not just about the money, it’s about respect

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The staff who work with Edinburgh’s children and vulnerable adults are having to cough up £59 each just to stay in their job – and just because they work for Edinburgh Council.

It is the cost of the Protection of Vulnerable Groups scheme (PVG) which replaces the current vetting of staff working with vulnerable people. If you are not PVG registered over the next three years it will be illegal for you to do your job.

Of course we welcome the scheme itself because it will help protect those most at risk. That is not the issue. The issue is the cost to individual workers, many of them low paid.

Because it is absolutely essential to the service, employers like the NHS in Scotland, most other councils, Edinburgh Leisure and colleges are all paying this fee for existing staff. But not Edinburgh City Council. That means some care workers will have to stump up a quarter of their weekly take- home pay, albeit as a one-off, just to keep their job. In a slap in the face to existing staff, the council will pay the update fee for new starts who already have the PVG.

To be fair, the council will allow the lowest paid an interest free loan over two years to pay this, with other staff offered a one-year loan. But it is not just about the money.

It is also about respect. About feeling valued for the essential work these workers do. It is about some recognition for soldiering on providing essential services despite millions in cuts and a pay freeze that has seen the value of local government pay drop by 13 per cent over the last few years.

Our members also tell us that it is about rebuilding a shattered morale resulting from those cuts, high work pressures and what they perceive in some areas to be a macho management culture that destroys efficiency and goodwill. We know it was the last Lib Dem/SNP administration that took the miserly decision. But we expect more from the new Labour/SNP partnership that has been so positive about trying to protect jobs and services despite huge Westminster and Holyrood cuts.

If anything good has come out of this, it is a reminder of the essential jobs council staff do. 9000 people in the council need to be registered because they work directly with children or vulnerable adults. That is half of the council workforce directly providing essential education, care and protection.

Most of the other half also directly provide or support essential services like roads, environment, housing, public health and public safety. So much for the “vast army of bureaucrats” many would like you to believe about local councils.

Come on Edinburgh, let’s see the new administration show faith in their staff. Paying for the PVG like so many other employers would avoid yet another pay cut. But much more than that, it would give a much needed boost to rapidly failing morale.

• John Stevenson is president of Unison’s City of Edinburgh branch