The day the strikes hit

NADV 1111302 Strike suppoters. Annie Wittman and fellow strike suppoters outside Harrogate Council office. (1111302AM1)
NADV 1111302 Strike suppoters. Annie Wittman and fellow strike suppoters outside Harrogate Council office. (1111302AM1)

STRIKES closed schools, hospital clinics and council services in Harrogate on Wednesday, as public sector workers took industrial action in their dispute with the Government over pensions.

Harrogate’s five state secondary schools were closed to all or most pupils, along with at least 11 other schools in the town and five in the villages.

Harrogate District Hospital said the impact there had been “minimal”, but Harrogate Council was unable to monitor CCTV, while Starbeck Pool - which it manages - was shut.

David Houlgate from Unison said there had been a strong turnout, but council leader Coun Don Mackenzie told the Advertiser that more than three-quarters of council staff had come to work.

The response from residents on social media websites was mixed. On Twitter, Crista Webber (@catandmousePR) said: “Massive round of applause to the staff at Western School this morning who show great commitment to the kids by ignoring strike action.”

Helen Nash (@luluflash) wrote: “Both my children at home. Childcare nightmare. Striking doesn’t pay - they’re lucky they’ve got a job!”, while Chris Kell (@Kellerman100) said: “Just drove past picketers outside Harrogate Hospital holding signs saying ‘Honk if you support us’. The silence was deafening...”

But other tweeters did back the strikers.

Amanda Simmons (@amandasimmons04) noted that 2,700 out of 20,000 schools were open nationwide, adding: “Pity some have remained open by ‘colleagues’ providing cover for staff on strike!”

Elsewhere, retailers reported a huge spike in business as public sector workers used the day to do some Christmas shopping.

David Houlgate, secretary of Unison’s Harrogate local government branch, said union members had picketed the council offices from 6.30am to 10.45am, before some joined colleagues outside Harrogate Hospital.

“Morale was very high. The noticeable thing was the amount of support we seemed to be receiving from the public,” he said.

All Harrogate Council services were at least partly affected, as 20 to 25 per cent of staff went on strike, with benefits enquiries only dealt with over the phone, Shopmobility closed and the dog warden service unavailable.

Waste and recycling teams operated as usual, while the authority said 82 per cent of Harrogate International Centre workers had come to work, as the venue held a conference.

Coun Mackenzie said: “It was largely what we were expecting. I was concerned about HIC - the last thing I wanted was disruption to an important medical customer - but virtually everyone came in. I would just like to think it was the staff being responsible, with all the financial difficulties in that sector.”

He acknowledged that workers felt very strongly about pensions - “quite understandably so, we are all worried about our pensions” - but that he did not support strike action, which affected residents and taxpayers who are also facing serious challenges.

Resident Denis Cleaver praised the waste and recycling team for “ignoring the call to strike”.

“It is these hard working, in-all-weathers, frontline public servants who need supporting, rather than the majority in their comfy, indoor jobs,” he said. “I am tired of hearing how hard and stressful these jobs are and what a good job they are doing without any appreciation: rubbish.”

A spokesman for Harrogate Hospital said the impact had been “minimal”, with most services - including all critical areas - running as normal, though a small number of clinics were closed.

There were pickets at all entrances to St James’s Institute for Oncology in Leeds, which deals with many Harrogate patients.

Stuart Wilson, a radiotherapy specialist at the hospital who lives in Bilton, said: “We’re taking part in industrial action because of the offer we have been given on NHS pensions.

“The deal that’s offered to the younger members of the NHS isn’t very good. We hope the Government will see the strength of feeling that there is about this and come back to the table with a slightly better deal.”

He added that those currently in treatment had received it.

Members of Yorkshire Ambulance Service also went on strike, with the trust saying it was taking “a little longer than normal” to respond to those with life-threatening illnesses and injuries.