Thursday, May 15, 2008

Future Shape of Barnet Council – One week on!

Online Forum with the Chief Executive
It is good to see staff responding to the first of what I hope will be many more online forums on the Future Shape of Barnet Council. UNISON agrees with the comments about ‘plain English’ too often the public are put off becoming involved in consultation by the type of language used in committee meetings and public documents. Whilst we await a ‘plain English’ version UNISON believe it is important staff understand what is at stake over the next 202 days until the Cabinet Committee 3 December 2008.

It is already clear from reading the comments raised on the online forum that the impact of privatisation is an issue not just for staff but for service delivery & value for money. In the past the Trade Unions were labelled as ‘dinosaurs’ because they objected to marketisation of public services. Well, we have had 30 years of continuous attacks on Public Services, it is clear that privatisation has not delivered the savings or improved quality the introduction of the private and voluntary sector heralded. As for staff it has been a disaster, terms and conditions quickly eroded, and little prospect for improvement.

Hard working loyal staff
In Barnet the last five years have been hard on staff as they have had to cope with year on years cuts, less staff , but increased workloads and at the same time see their pay fall behind the cost of living! It is incredible that despite all of this they have delivered a Four Star Service!

So I can understand the mixed feelings of frustration, anger, disbelief from staff that all their hard work could be rewarded by being privatised! I notice Lambeth Council who recently achieved 3 stars have just announced staff with gain an extra days annual leave this year.
Perhaps Barnet staff will get 2 days……………………..?

So what does this consultation mean for staff and services?

It is clear that all Council services are potentially at risk of being transferred out. I think it is understandable that staff are worried about the future in another organisation out of Council control. After all as some of those on the forums have pointed out, we don’t want another Fremantle debacle!

Why are they doing this?
Let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth…………..
The Communities and Local Government Minister Hazel Blears said
“Local Authorities will see their role change to strategic planners and commissioners of services, while involving ‘partners’ and ‘stakeholders’ in “developing and delivering a shared vision for their area”

"local authorities will generally be better able to meet their best value duty by adopting a commissioning role ... making use of all available resources - without regard for whether services are provided in-house, externally or through various forms of partnership."
The message could not be clearer Government policies are pushing local authorities to stop providing services and take on a ‘commissioning’ role and at the same time limiting funding necessary to deliver services. In response to funding issues for an ever-growing London Borough our Council developed the ‘Barnet Bond’ (no relative of 007 James Bond !) as a means to fund the increasing pressure on our Borough’s infrastructure as the population continues to grow.

The Challenge
This government's plans for delivering local services introduce a whole range of new bodies and terms to the public-service landscape. The key features of the new landscape are:

Local Strategic Partnership - this brings together public bodies in the local area that provide public services, alongside the community and voluntary sector and local businesses, and is convened by the local authority;

Sustainable Community Strategy - the strategic long-term plan for an area drawn up by the local strategic partnership and formally agreed by a full local council meeting;

Comprehensive Area Assessment - a new performance management system, with 198 'indicators' covering not just local authorities, but all areas where they are working in partnership, which includes most other public services, and replacing comprehensive performance assessment;

Local Area Agreement - sets out 35 locally agreed performance targets that councils and partner organisations aim to meet; it is negotiated locally through the local strategic partnership and ratified by a full local council meeting before being agreed by central government.

Some of our members will be familiar with the above headings but most will not. But we all need to understand them and the impact they will have on services and whether the Council remains an employer for the majority of their staff.

What should we do next?
It seems as we have must address this period of consultation on two levels. Firstly we must engage in the consultation process and scrutinise proposals within the Council. Secondly we all need to address this issue with our local MP’s. Our branch will draft a letter for our members to use or amend and send to their own MP.

Barnet UNISON recognises that our members are facing major challenges and the need for us to build alliances in our community. National UNISON is at the forefront of defending public services not just for members but for the local community. This is why our branch AGM agreed to affiliate with London Citizens and help revive the Barnet Trades Union Council, membership includes most of the largest Trades Unions in the UK, UNISON, GMB, NUT, UCU, PCS, RMT, CWU, NUJ with more Unions looking to join.

Barnet Council is already visiting other Councils who have entered into partnerships; Barnet UNISON will make contact with UNISON branches in those Councils.

We will endeavour to keep a regular communication on progress through emails/website/newsletters/branch meetings. We are trying to maximise the means by which we communicate with our members. Converting newsletters into electronic format and sending links to our BLOG.

I am pleased to announce that we have a UNISON page on the Council’s intranet.
Please save this link as a favourite. Our eNEWS will direct you to updates and consultation documents.

Remember if you have any comments email them to

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