Local Government Conference slammed the outsourcing of public services as “well and truly” discredited.
It backed a high-profile campaign to keep public services in-house and to bring back those already outsourced. It demanded greater transparency from outsourced services and will campaign for full equal pay compliance in such companies.
Moving the composite motion from Renfrewshire UNISON and the Local Government Service Group Executive, Renfrewshire’s Brenda Aitchison told a dark fairy story, an allegory for the tale of outsourcing, featuring fair-haired but evil rulers and communities fooled into outsourcing by myths and lies.
Brenda began: “Our statistics show the age profile in UNISON is weighted towards the over 40’s so I’m guessing most of you remember Jackanory.
“For our younger delegates, think CBB’S bedtime stories but without Hollywood and British actors doing the reading!
“So, conference are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.”
She told delegates that once upon a time, “well let’s be specific 39 years ago, there was a ruler over our four nations.
“She was fair of hair but dark of heart. Her mission – to cast a spell over the working people to believe that there was no such thing as society.
“The individual was king, survival of the fittest, private industries were best, deriding and attempting to dismantle all things public….public services, public transport, public industries. A cult was born. Greed was good.”
And through the years, said Brenda, her web was spun. All forces at her disposal were used – economic, political, the media. The people of these lands were sold a myth. This was the land of meritocracy. All you needed was drive, hard work and talent and you could reap the rewards.
“You didn’t need a trade union, there was no need for collective bargaining, your employer would see you alright with good terms and conditions.”
However, as time rolled on the reality was somewhat different for millions of workers, she warned. Wages didn’t grow, levels of personal debt increased, well paid work became scarce, skilled work in manufacturing and heavy industry was lost.
In place was more precarious work, casualised labour, poorer paid jobs. But private sector was still seen as the best. There was an abundance of opportunity for private companies to get their hands on public services.
“Outsourcing became the mantra,” slammed Brenda. “Hand your services over to us we are more efficient.
“And so it began in local government, central government, NHS. Capita, Mitie, Virgin Care, ALEO’s, PFI’s, G4S, Carillion and on and on. Sub contractors who sub contracted and sub contracted. The shareholders and directors were king, greed before need.”
But Brenda warned that the people providing the service were caught up in a race to the bottom for pay and terms and conditions of employment. Poorer rights in pay, holiday entitlement, overtime rates, pensions, travel expenses, sick pay, job security, training, career progression and service users having to make do with poorer services as the shareholders needed their return.
She warned that although the rulers changed over time, the people were still being fed the same myths. Regardless of political persuasion, capitalism was the only way.
However, said Brenda, the people began to realise they were being woefully mislead. As their terms and conditions of employment were getting poorer, and the elite few were getting so much more.
Then the banking crisis hit and 90% of jobs lost were in local government and those workers still in service saw attacks on their terms and conditions.
“Those who were lucky had their trade union to collectively fight back, to educate and agitate and organise. Those services which had been outsourced in the private sector saw those workers having poorer terms and conditions in part due to non-unionised workplaces.
“The services they provide were not best value for money for the local authorities or the service users.
“Despite the cuts the public services which were provided in house continued to deliver albeit not at the level they had done so before the cuts in funding.”
Then a new ruler came along and claimed she was on the side of working people, strong and stable.
“Yet the people by now were no longer fooled – they saw her as weak and feeble. She did little to stem private sector corporate greed, public money continued to move into private hands,” slammed Brenda.
“Then the final straw. Carillion who had 420 public sector contracts went under, responsible for maintenance of 50 prisons and 50,000 homes for military personnel, 218 school meal services, £1.4 billion joint venture contract HS2.
“The game of monopoly with our public services MUST end said the people. Bring Them Back to us, they cried, where need is put before greed for the benefit of service users and those who deliver the services.
“The people knew that there was such a thing as society, a good society that pulls together for the benefit of all not just the lucky few.”
Brenda called for a new campaign and for UNISON to commission an academic study around outsourcing in all its forms, working with APSE across local government to bring services back in house.
“In that way we can, as all good stories end, all live happily ever after.”