Teachers' strike could make £20m dent in West economy
The Westcountry economy could lose more than £20 million today, according to a business leader, as thousands of pupils are forced to stay at home because of teachers' strikes.
Hundreds of schools in the region are closed, completely or partially, because of a mass strike in the region organised by unions the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the NASUWT.
The strikes are the second organised by the unions across parts of the UK this month and are being held as part of a long-running row over pay, pensions and workload.
Teachers in the Westcountry have warned reforms brought in by Education Secretary Michael Gove could cause education in the region to dip behind other areas in the country.
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However, while backing the teachers' right to strike, business leaders have warned of the potential impact on the region's economy with parents, left struggling to organise adequate child care, being forced to miss work.
Kim Conchie, chief executive of Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, said if half of Cornwall's 40,000 micro-business and sole traders were affected it could cost the economy upwards of £20million.
"It does affect a lot of business and, particularly in Cornwall, our small businesses," he said. "People can't take days off at short notice like that and also in Cornwall, because wages are low, both parents often work in order to keep up the family income.
"It will be a real problem, it means the children are either going to be going out on to the streets or will have to stay at home, which with small businesses is going to make life much more difficult.
"For those people, and there are quite a few, who work from home, productivity is going to drop off the end of the scale. They won't get anything done. A lot of it is avoidable, there is often poor communication with those who are the most affected. But we are a democratic society, I absolutely applaud people's right to demonstrate in order to get their point across."
The NUT strikes are the second to be organised this month, following a first round carried out in the north of the country on October 1.
They also come just days before Fire Brigade Union strikes over pension reforms organised for Saturday, and as postal staff prepare to strike.
Barrie Frost, NUT national executive member for Cornwall, Isles of Scilly, Devon and Torbay, said: "I have never known so many teachers ringing me up wanting to get out because of stress and pressure. This term has probably been the worst start to a term that I can remember. It's has been bad in terms of case work problems with teachers suffering from stress, anxiety and being over worked.
"Of course we do (have sympathy for businesses). I cant remember the last time we took strike action, and it is not something we do routinely but the Tories in our view are systematically destroying state education and somebody has to say enough is enough.
"It's very interesting when there was a day off for the Royal Wedding you didn't see businesses complaining.
"All the issues are national but I think certainly with pay, we know that the funding formula for education services down here is significantly less than in other areas.
"If the schools in the South West aren't able to offer the right salary for the job then people will go elsewhere. That's not going to be good for our schools, it will be particularly bad for the South West."
A teachers' rally has been organised outside Home Park in Plymouth between 11am and 12.30pm today, alongside others in Poole and Bristol.