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Camden New Journal - By RICHARD OSLEY
Published: 17 January 2008
Backlash over plans to axe estate caretakers

CONTROVERSIAL proposals to axe council estate caretakers by replacing them with private cleaners has left Camden’s housing chief fighting an open rebellion from staff, tenants and opposition councillors.
Relations between housing staff and Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Naylor sank to a new low as union members passed a vote of no confidence in his leadership of the department. The move was agreed by Unison workers last Wednesday.
Cllr Naylor said the issue had been whipped up by “rumours” and vowed that the care­taking service would not be cut as a whole.
But he conceded savings needed to be found and stopped short of guaranteeing everybody would keep their job.
“I’m very concerned about the incorrect rumour that we are axing the service as a whole,” said Cllr Naylor. “The government seems to be less interested in funding housing every year and we have had to look at making between 5 to 10 per cent of econ­omies.”
He is mulling over plans to outsource part of the caretaking duties but opponents have told him that the service is effectively the “face of the council” to some tenants and trusted, long-serving staff are unfairly facing the boot.
Labour leader Councillor Anna Stewart will call on the council to safeguard jobs at Monday’s full council meeting, while a group of tenants will lead a deputation before members.
“The changes are being brought in by stealth,” said Cllr Stewart. “There has been no proper consultation with tenants. Caretakers are the frontline troops – an everyday point of contact that people value.”
Charlie Hedges, head of the Hampstead District Management Committee, said: “There are good caretakers and there are bad caretakers, but if there are bad caretakers then it is a management issue, not a case for not having them.”
Mr Hedges, a former councillor and one-time housing department chief, added: “They say that there is a consultation but there was a management meeting in December where it was all decided that they couldn’t keep the status quo.
“When I was head of housing, I never heard of a vote of no confidence.”
The Unison motion ruled: “This meeting has taken the very serious step of a vote of no confidence in senior managers and Chris Naylor, the executive member for housing who has put the ‘cheaper and better’ agenda to save money ahead of either consulting with service users or accepting any cautionary note that this reorganisation is detrimental to the existing service.”
Cllr Naylor said that Unison would be consulted on changes.

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