The prime minister was talking about the planned changes to public sector pensions which prompted yesterday’s mass walkout by some state employees, including members of one of the unions which represents Communities and Local Government department staff. His in-no-uncertain-terms message applies as easily to the swathe of changes prompting housing chiefs to make tough choices about cuts, jobs and services across the land.
Front line staff, housing workers among them, sent a message right back to government. It too went something like, ‘we can’t go on as we are’.
The 3,000-odd Birmingham staff striking over changes to their pay and conditions, and the 60 housing repairs employees from Camden, are among the first housing staff to down tools over the impact of coalition reforms. They are unlikely to be the last.
Have no doubt - austerity Britain is really beginning to bite. Other signs of its snap this week include Tory grandee Lord Heseltine destroying all hope that housing schemes, in particular in deprived market renewal areas, might benefit from the £1.4 billion regional growth fund.
Meanwhile HM Revenue & Customs both lifted spirits by launching a consultation on scrapping VAT on efficiency-generating shared services (page 3), then deflated them by proposing closing a loophole which could see landlords hit with a £183 million tax bill.
The sector may be braced for the pain. But that doesn’t make coping with it any easier. ‘We can’t go on as we are’ isn’t an option for housing providers mindful of the need to continue to provide quality services, often to vulnerable people themselves coping with the impact of reform.
Organisations must be ready to ride out weeks far tougher than this one. Those operating 24/7 services, such as supported housing and homelessness providers where wages are being driven ever lower as contract values fall, face particularly tricky challenges if staff strike. Disruption may prove inevitable - but there are some areas where we can’t afford not to go on as we are.