A LABOUR council leader in Yorkshire has launched a stinging attack on the “hostility” shown by trade unions as his authority faces having to make significant savings.
Mehboob Khan picked out the Unison union for criticism for prioritising issues such as “the tape recording of meetings, what colour tights are, whether meetings are postponed or not” rather than helping find ways of preserving services.
Declaring himself “a faithful supporter of trade unions” he expressed sadness at efforts to create division in the council.
The leader of Kirklees Council also paid tribute to the authority’s staff and attacked “the negative public image” of council workers.
In common with councils across the region, Kirklees is planning to make millions of pounds in fresh savings in the financial year ahead.
Writing on his blog as he prepares to step down from his role as council leader next week, Coun Khan said: “We all know that there will be redundancies in the future - we cannot balance the books without them - no matter how hard we fight this government and their terrible austerity measures.
“Fewer people and fewer services. And yet the big agendas for unison seem to be the tape recording of meetings, what colour tights are, whether meetings are postponed or not.
“These aren’t the issues any union should be fighting for right now. If it was me I’d be working with us to increase the pay and support of low paid workers without the danger of further job losses.
“I’d want to be looking at what help staff need to get jobs in other sectors. I’d want to be supporting staff spin-outs if that’s the way jobs and services are saved rather than outsourcing to the lowest bidder.
“I’d want to look at ways of reducing travel or other costs to keep more jobs. I’d want to provide modern, flexible and emotionally intelligent representation. But maybe that’s just me.”
Last month, Coun Khan announced his intention to stand down as Labour group and council leader.
The Greenhead ward councillor has led Labour on Kirklees Council for ten years and has been council leader for five.
He is stepping down to take on a new role as a political adviser in London but intends to remain a councillor for the time being.
In his blogpost titled “A message to staff: Keep fighting the good fight!” Coun Khan said Kirklees Council staff “unfailingly put their own circumstances second to serving our residents”.
He added: “I am a faithful supporter of trades unions and will continue to be. But accusations and hostility don’t do anyone any favours. It divides the labour movement and creates mistrust.
“I can only imagine how hard it is for senior managers to remain calm and reasonable when faced with unrelenting, often untruthful accusations and slights. And yet they are right to do so.
“We are not out for a fight in Kirklees the enemy isn’t here. We are all victims of savage cuts. Our residents, our partners and stakeholders and all our staff.”
Coun Khan urged staff to “stick together, support each other, trust those who really are batting and battling for you because in adversity without unity we are nothing.”
The Kirklees Council Labour group has chosen deputy leader David Sheard to replace Coun Khan and he is expected to be confirmed as council leader in the coming weeks.
Coun Sheard has been a councillor for more than 30 years, representing the Heckmondwike ward. A Unison spokesman declined to comment.