When Ranjit Banwait was asked by a fellow member of the Council Chamber whether he was planning to audition for the role of “Wishy-Washy” in this year’s pantomime – I was reassured that the sentiments of those of us in the public gallery were also felt by some of those on the floor.
Tonight was the 3rd demonstration outside the Council Offices against the proposed cuts to the pay of many Teaching Assistants in the City – some of whom will experience reductions of up to 25%. In my earlier article I suggested that this issue was “Banwait’s Poll Tax Moment”. As with Thatcher in the 80s, it doesn’t matter how many intellectual arguments you throw at this issue, or how much you shroud yourself in political point-scoring and ideology – the end result is stupid! How can a party that claims to represent the working class ever feel comfortable with this outcome.
People are no longer interested in hearing about the excuses to do with central Government funding. Those are the cards that you have been dealt, Mr Banwait, if you feel ill at ease in managing that, professionally, for the benefit of the people of Derby….and in this case, Council employees, then please feel free to resign. Apologies for being direct, but it’s not the time to be wishy-washy!
Since the last protest about a month ago, the Council has deferred the implementation of this change from January to June 2016. The outcome represents a success for those who are fighting this cause whether on the streets, on-line, or in the classrooms. The clumsy rationale given by the Council which was trying to blame all parties apart from themselves seemed to have been written by a highly inexperienced, aspirational, spin-doctor – perhaps another pantomime character.
The 6 month moratorium is welcomed by all who may have been thrust into a financial crisis over the Christmas period. But this contained no altruism from the Council. They seem to have dug in with a transparently threatening, legally questionable, and a fundamentally adversarial policy of stating that unless there is a collective agreement then, in effect, everyone will be summarily dismissed and re-employed on the new terms. An approach that Margaret Thatcher would have applauded…..but TA’s do not have the political muscle of the Coal Miners. They only support the education of our children….and in many cases, those vulnerable ones with complex Special Needs, so do not wield the spectre of voters losing electricity supply.
The UNISON legal team have reviewed the legality of this process and it seems to be found wanting.
A petition collected over 5000 signatures which meant that the motion should be debated in a full Council meeting – this took place this evening.
Julia Redfern, representing the TA’s was given 5 minutes to present the background to the motion, and argued the case for challenging the existing policy and demanded that TA’s be paid, fairly. Her speech was abruptly curtailed by the Mayor, mid-stream which, given the subsequent pointless motions, and time-wasting, was simply rude.
This was supposed to be followed by a debate. What actually took place was speeches by Labour Councillors Eldret and Shanker that re-iterated the party line followed by speeches/questions from Councillors Graves ( who flattered me by quoting directly from my original article), Naitta, and Williams which challenged, in particular the “dismissal procedure” and the reasons for why the Council was abdicating responsibility for solving the problem to each individual school. A reasonable person might have expected that a debate would include the Opposition questions being answered, together with some follow-up challenge and….er….a debate, concluding with a vote on the motion.
For those in the public gallery, the technical machinations of petty cynical politicking by the Mayor of Derby proved, initially, confusing. However, it transpired that the serious request for discussion mutated into a frivolous “note the motion”, not to “accept”, or “reject”….it was a set-up, an exploitation of “procedure” from people who were clearly contemptuous of the dignity of this petition. It was a complete, and utter insult to every Teaching Assistant, and their families, whose lives are hanging in the balance over this shambolic policy of the Labour Council. The Mayor, or Banwait, it was not clear who made the decision, showed their total disrespect for the legitimate cause of the people represented in the Public Gallery. My only surprise at this point was how well contained the observers were – I don’t think I would have been so polite.
Councillor Banwait took the opportunity to point out in an answer to a direct question to him that the reason for the confusion and disruption in the negotiations was down to UNISON changing their stance at the 11th hour. This was met by a quiet retort of “Liar” in the public gallery. Banwait confidently stated that he had emails to prove this change of heart. Perhaps he should make them available to Derby News to prove his assertion.
A gallery full of protestors sat expectantly though this whole charade, and left “empty”, snubbed, outraged, and disrespected. Do the Council leadership care so little for the health and welfare of their employees? These are people’s lives – this is not superficial, game-playing – the time has come for this to stop and for the the Leader to show true Leadership for those who he represents. He is a public servant – not a Master!
I would welcome the opportunity to interview Mr Banwait about this fiasco, but would have zero tolerance with his trademark “wishy-washy” answers.
Do you have time in your diary Mr Banwait?
A short film covering this evening’s events including the rude intervention by the Mayor, and the ridiculous vote.