The trade union at the centre of an increasingly fractious dispute between Swindon Borough Council and some of its social workers has sent an email to all councillors that is very critical of the current administration.

And it said the new Labour leadership, which took over in June, has squandered a better relationship, and way of organising the emergency duty system for social workers that it inherited from the previous Conservative administration.

The email from Andy Newman, the GMB’s regional branch secretary, was addressed to the cabinet member for children Councillor Paul Dixon and the member for adults’ services Councillor Ray Ballman but would appear to have been copied to all members.

It said that the council has raised concerns over the new pay and reward system and its impact on the emergency duty social workers who provide cover twenty-four hours a day.

It said: “We warned you that the flawed approach of the pay and grading review was putting the service at risk, as extremely skilled staff would leave. We had also met the council leader, Jim Robbins, and in July we met with the deputy leader, Emma Bushell. 

“GMB sought to bring our concerns to Labour councillors in private, and in good time, so that the problems could be averted without the need for strike action.”

In August the seven members of the emergency duty team took strike action, but it was cut short as they returned to work saying a lack of cover arranged by the council left vulnerable people in danger.

The email continues: “Although SBC has now put a sticking plaster over the issue of the proposed pay cut, no binding assurance has been issued to staff that the additional monies will not be removed in the future, and the method of implementation is not legally robust. Our dispute therefore remains live."

The email accused officers of “intransigence” and said two of the seven-strong team have now left the council, leaving the team with just two accredited mental health practitioners, less than it needs to provide the cover it must by law.

It said council officers refused to discuss the situation with the union.

It added: “You inherited a system from the Conservatives that was working well, Labour councillors were warned of threats to that service, and you chose not to act in time to avert those threats. This was a failure of leadership. At any time, Labour cabinet members could have picked up the phone to GMB, to discuss ways to avert the threats to the service. You chose not to do so. 

“The council is now locked into a dysfunctional industrial relationship with GMB, where despite us having a non-trivial membership in the council, and several serious issues that our members wish us to take up with the council, the council officers have made it quite clear that they prefer confrontation with GMB to negotiations.

“This was a situation that Jim Robbins had earlier offered to resolve, but he seems to have broken that promise."

It concluded: “It is not too late for Swindon Borough Council to step back from the path of confrontation, and solutions need to be found, in the interests of the clients and service users who rely on the skilled professionalism of these social workers. 

Councillor Emma Bushell, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for organisational oversight, responded: “Our officers have acted with integrity and professionalism at all times during negotiations with the GMB.

“We have addressed the main issue of pay surrounding this dispute and we are keen to find a solution to the latest points raised by the GMB so our valued staff can move on from this current situation.”