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Schools to close as Norfolk braces itself for strikes

PUBLISHED: 07:43 29 November 2011

Unison protestors outside Norwich City Hall

Unison protestors outside Norwich City Hall

Archant 2011 0

Council bosses have insisted they are prepared to cope with a day of strike action, which will see more than a hundred schools across Norfolk close their doors and other services disrupted.

Following a national ballot, members of public sector unions, including teachers, council staff and health workers, will be taking a day of action tomorrow over proposed changes to government pensions, which union leaders say could be the biggest action since the 1926 General Strike.

While bosses at Norfolk councils insisted they would stay open and disruption to services would be kept to a minimum, unions said the action would mean some services would grind to a halt.

More than 120 schools across the county have already indicated they will be closed or partially closed.

At Norfolk County Council, people are urged only to contact the authority with emergencies. County Hall will be open, but the customer service department will give priority to emergency social care and highway calls.

The council also warned because some of the gritting team would be taking part in strike action, drivers should take extra care in case of frost or ice because some roads might go untreated.

Graham Plant, cabinet member for planning and transportation, said: “It is disappointing that no exemptions have been granted for road gritting and, although not all gritter drivers will be on strike, we cannot be certain which parts of the network will be affected.

“We will keep the situation under review, but we have to advise people to assume the roads are not treated and drive accordingly.“

Jonathan Dunning, Norfolk County UNISON branch secretary, said: “Our members regret having to take industrial action, but the approach being taken by the government is penalising ordinary working people, exaggerating how generous pensions are to justify their actions and refusing to engage in meaningful negotiations with union leaders. They have left us with no alternative.”

Cliff Jordan, the county council’s cabinet member for efficiency, said: “I would like to reassure people we continue to do our utmost to limit any effect on front-line services and will try to keep essential services running, wherever possible.

“We are working hard to assess and understand the potential impact of Wednesday at a local level and are directing resources to support the most vulnerable service users in line with our well established business continuity plans.

“Outside of schools we expect most county council services, such as care services, park and ride, recycling centres and libraries, to be open for business, but we will try to let people know of any disruption as soon as possible.”

Norwich City Council said about 370 of its 830-strong workforce had indicated they would be absent due to strike action.

A spokeswoman said City Hall would be open for business, but would be closed between midday and 2pm because of a Coalition Against The Cuts march and rally, which culminates with speeches on the steps of City Hall.

The council said they were expecting their contractors to deal with waste as normal. A spokeswoman said: “Plans have been put in place to minimise the impact of the strike on essential services.

“These are being reviewed regularly but the council doesn’t anticipate any major disruption to council services.”

A spokesman for North Norfolk District Council said some services, including those provided at the Cromer and Fakenham council offices, could be hit and waste and recycling collections could be disrupted.

Bosses at West Norfolk Council, South Norfolk Council, Waveney District Council and Breckland Council said they were aiming to deliver all their services, but warned there could be some disruption.

At Broadland District Council and Great Yarmouth Borough Council, there were concerns the closure of schools could have a knock-on effect on the workforce. But they said they expected most services to run as normal.

Suffolk County Council said “essential” services such as adult care services, social work, home care and residential care would be largely unaffected, as would the fire service.

Its offices will open as usual with the majority of libraries open, although Lowestoft Record Office will be shut.

Parents across the region will be wondering how to cope with the prospect of school closures and a lack of childcare.

So far, Norfolk County Council has been informed of 120 full or partial school closures, but this could be substantially higher on the day.

A significant number of Suffolk’s schools are set to close and both councils will be posting the very latest information on their websites, but parents are being urged to make alternative arrangements.

Prime minister David Cameron has called for parents to take their youngsters to work with them but those who are not keen on their offspring spending the day in the office may find that last-minute childcare is scarce.

Cliff Jordan, Norfolk County Council’s cabinet member for efficiency, said: “We anticipate a large number of Norfolk’s schools will be closed on Wednesday and parents and carers should expect to be kept informed by the head teacher concerned. We have asked schools to inform families as soon as possible about their plans. I would urge people to contact their school direct if they need further clarification.”

Members of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), which represents lecturers and some support staff at the University of East Anglia and at City College Norwich, will also be taking strike action. One school which is aiming to stay open is the Ormiston Victory Academy, in Costessey. Principal Rachel de Souza is determined to keep the doors open and has enlisted former armed forces personnel, West End performers, and even South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon to visit the school to give talks and run ‘summer school’-style activities with the students.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service is not affected but Job Centres could be closed.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We have business continuity measures in place to deliver and maintain a service for the public. We expect everyone who is entitled to benefits will receive them.”

The precise details of the number of health staff likely to take action is not yet known, but the NHS is working with unions to ensure that essential services are maintained.

Patients whose appointments have been altered will have been contacted in advance.

The public are being asked to use NHS services sensibly and appropriately on the day to ensure emergency care does not become overstretched.

NHS Norfolk and Waveney does not anticipate that GP services will be significantly affected.

The East of England Ambulance Service is planning to run patient services and the Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust expects to run inpatient services and many important community services as normal on a similar level of service to a bank holiday.

Norfolk Community Health and Care services are expected to continue broadly as normal, but services most likely to be affected are physiotherapy and podiatry clinics, and patients are being notified if their appointment needs to be rearranged.

Hospitals in Norfolk are hoping to run at least a bank holiday level of service and while in some areas it will be normal business, some appointments and non-emergency procedures will have to be rearranged. Patients are asked to attend as normal, unless contacted by their hospital.

Patients are being reminded they can call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47, and they can also get advice from pharmacists.

Patients who need to be seen immediately but do not have a serious illness or injury, can access the Timber Hill Health Centre in Castle Mall, Norwich (7am-9pm) or the Minor Injuries Unit at Cromer from 8am-8pm.

Visit the Choose Well section of the NHS Norfolk website at www.norfolk.nhs.uk

• School closures can be viewed at www.norfolk.gov.uk or at http://schoolclosures.suffolk.gov.uk

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