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Union incredulous at claims made by Leader of Carmarthenshire Plaid Cymru in interview

Dear Editor, We would like to respond to an interview with Plaid Carmarthenshire County leader Emlyn Dole

Our branch officers were and many of our members would have been incredulous if they had read the interview with Plaid Carmarthenshire County Council leader Emlyn Dole on Wales New Online. 

What we find bizarre is that Mr Dole claims he is ‘tuned in’ and ‘grounded’ and that he puts himself ‘in the shoes of the people you are dealing with at the time.’ Mr Dole may well have a close working relationship with the CEO Wendy Walters, but he and his cabinet are completely out of touch with what the consequences of the council implementing cuts has had council employees and how most employees regard the council.

There are none so blind as those who will not see (English proverb). This unfortunately sums up the approach of Plaid led Carmarthenshire County Council regarding its insistence on pushing through its new ‘Travel and Associated Expenses Policy.’ The proposed changes to this revamped innocuous sounding policy are yet another attack by the council on employees’ terms and conditions.

Carmarthenshire County Council employees and the public have suffered years of Tory austerity passed on by a Welsh Labour Government and administered by Carmarthenshire County Council. Members have seen the real value of their pay drop by around 25% since the financial crash in 2007/08 and on top of this council workers have suffered the double whammy of cuts to jobs and as a result harder working with increased stress and mental health problems as employees and as recipients of services, they have seen these markedly decline while paying more council tax for the privilege.

Emlyn Dole stated in the interview that ‘you are a target when you become the leader of a council and he was glad about that. ‘Its what keeps you tuned in’ he said. In response we say that while you cannot satisfy all of the people all of the time, you are certainly going to invoke the anger and frustration of the public and employees alike by administering Tory cuts that Plaid have done since they took control of the council in 2015 in coalition with the (we’re not a party) Independents. The council for many years under the previous leadership of Labour and now Plaid have attacked employees’ terms and conditions and this along with the loss of 20% of the workforce has created a tired workforce with low morale.

While employees (or the public) should never have to foot the bill for the council’s lack of willingness to oppose cuts. The timing of the imposition of the above revamped policy just goes to show how out of touch the council leadership is. At a time when the cost of living is literally going through the roof ( 30 year high) and our members and their families face the choice of eat or heat the council have decided to cut the excess travel costs (it applies if the employer tells you to move to another workplace) from what is currently 4 years excess travel protection is going to be reduced to six months.

Our members and other council workers responded magnificently to the pandemic -they did not ignore the rules and party on like No 10. They put your lives on the line keeping vital services to the public running while putting themselves and their families at risk. Where would we be if council workers had not shown such dedication and self-sacrifice. Let us be clear it was council workers our members who kept our communities safe along with other essential services. But how do they get rewarded? With further attacks on their terms and conditions.

Frankly, the actions of this council make Mr Dole’s words sound hollow when he says in the  article ‘its about putting yourself in the shoes of the people you are dealing with at the time.’ If Mr Dole understands the ‘eat or heat’ dilemma of many Carmarthenshire council employees and their families face due to the big increase in the cost of living, worse terms and conditions and low council pay and is as grounded as he claims why has the council dutifully implemented Tory cuts under his leadership and continues to seek to make employees pay the price for the council’s lack of willingness to oppose austerity.
We are told by management that the current Travel and Associated Expenses Policy affects very few employees (currently) well that begs the question why change it then? And why choose to change this policy first or change only this policy when there are many policies that need to be reviewed?

The unions are suspicious that the council has plans to move employees to new workplaces and does not want to incur the added cost of this. This is yet another example of the council trying to save money at the cost of its employees. The same can be said of homeworking where instead of having to heat a council building many employees are working from home but are losing out financially as the council refuses to pay a homeworking allowance that covers the cost of homeworking and then claim they have reduced the carbon footprint when the cost of heating has been dumped on the employee. Add to this the significant increase in fuel costs where our Homecare and other members are paying for the privilege for visiting service users and families as the amount, they receive for mileage does not cover the cost of paying for fuel and maintaining their car.

As for Mr Dole’s claim that ‘I have tried to make myself available. The door is completely open. I hope I have become a better listener….’ This comes as news to our branch and the other trade unions because despite various requests to meet with Cabinet members we suspect that breaking into Fort Knox may be easier than getting through a Cabinet members door. Mr Dole’s door and the doors of all cabinet members have remained firmly shut to the unions. Unison and the other unions have called for structures to be put in place so we can meet the council leader and leader of the opposition Labour councillor Rob James on a regular basis.

If Mr Dole genuinely wants to be ‘tuned in’ he needs to hear directly from the unions what we have to say on behalf of our members and not the filtered version via senior management. Not meeting the trade unions is clearly not working for the council as they blundered into two industrial disputes with the unions over winter gritting and as result had to concede to members main demands and are likely to face other disputes if they do not change their approach.

Mark Evans
Branch Secretary
Carmarthenshire County Unison

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