Schools to close as Norwich braces itself for strike action

Council bosses have insisted they are prepared to cope with a day of strike action, which will see dozens of Norwich schools 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, with more than 20 in Norwich shutting their doors.

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.

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'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.'

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

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

A Norfolk police spokesman said: 'In preparation for the potential 'day of action', officers have, in recent weeks, been putting into place procedures to ensure that essential services are maintained.'

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.'

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