Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Silencing Critics of the Cuts

A number of reports have been coming into me about councils and others gagging their workers to prevent them talking about the effects of the cuts.

I received an email from a youth worker, ironically from David Cameron's own constituency, who recounted how she was corralled into a room with her colleagues, told they would be made redundant (about which they had been forewarned) and then given a warning that they would be dismissed for misconduct – losing any redundancy payment - if they talked publicly about the effect of the cut. They were specifically told not to speak to the press or their elected councillors about their sacking or the effect the withdrawal of youth services might have on their community.

Perhaps I am especially angry as a family member, a school bursar also under threat of redundancy, received a text message including a similar threat of instant dismissal as he was sitting outside a council meeting waiting to speak to the body that was deciding the schools budget. These are not the only two instances I have been made aware of. People who have at heart the interests of those they been serving are being silenced. The anger and surprise at the injustice to themselves and their clients is palpable.

I asked friends at the TUC if this is legal and the answer is no, errr well, maybe - it depends. But the tactic of informing people immediately before important meetings ensures they are unable to get legal advice.

I recognise that employees have a duty to be fair to their employer, and not take internal disputes into the public arena. But surely silencing employees is not in the best interests of the children in these schools and youth clubs. The Church along with others in the community wants to know the implications of government policy for the poorest and most vulnerable. Gagging those who work most closely with these groups, stopping us hearing their analysis of the consequences of these cuts is extremely dangerous. It benefits those who would remove services, and damages the interests of the vulnerable people who receive these services.

I hope the examples I have seen are isolated but I fear not - if you have any more examples or insight into the issue please get in touch