Sunday, June 08, 2008

Future Shape consultation four weeks on…..

Last Mondays meeting with Richard Grice (Programme Director) and Nick Walkley (Executive Director of Resources) was useful and provided an opportunity to ask questions about the process and the Trade Unions role over the coming months.

Clearly from the UNISON reports provided on our last BLOG post alternative privatisation models have presented significant issues which I hope that Barnet will avoid.

Whilst researching other Council’s experiences a number of key issues have emerged
Transparency, Accountability, Governance, Employment” all of which will be subject to constant scrutiny from Barnet UNISON.

In –house model
I raised and will continue to raise the fact that the in-house model must be given equal consideration when exploring what and how the Council provides services. In the past in-house inexperience, lack of financial capacity have been used as an excuse to privatise services, Fremantle Care workers campaign is clear evidence of that flawed thinking.

More recently, in Barnet we have seen innovative thinking which has led to ‘Transformation of Service Delivery’ in Resources and Adult Social Services to name but a few examples. Accessing substantial financial investment and partnership working was surely a significant factor in Barnet achieving Four Star status. This ability to transform a service to a high performing service can not be understated and clear local evidence of the high calibre Barnet staff. An independent report by I&DeA entitled Getting better all of the time?
the Executive Summary, point 20 Workforce Development…..
“But significant sections of the local government workforce who are operating on the ‘frontline’ have felt embattled and undervalued. Such staff are vital to effective service delivery. Highly motivated and skilled workforces who are passionate and engaged about optimising customer service and user benefit are a hallmark of high performing organisations. To date capacity building in terms of workforce development has barely scratched the surface. There will need to be much more investment in training and developing the local workforce if transformational changes are really to be achieved.”
Whilst it is true to say that the future is constantly changing this is not a reason to play down the role of high performing in-house services. I will look to see this acknowledged in the consultation process and risk assessment identifying the degree of risk to the Council of losing local experience and expertise.

Employment issues
I took the opportunity to discuss why staff are anxious about the prospects of working for an organisation that would look to make savings out of their terms and conditions. It is not just in the wage packet that concerns staff, but their future Pension. Whilst it is true that the Pension Scheme has gone through some changes, it still is a good Pension Scheme. When an employer starts to erode the pay it has a fundamental impact on the Pension forcast (as Fremantle Care workers have found out). In the past staff transfers have not been robust enough to protect staff, which explains why staff are anxious about possible outcomes of this consultation.

It is my experience that but for an exception of a few senior managers the outcomes for staff transferring out of the Council are poor in relation to their terms and conditions. This will be a key area of scrutiny for UNISON.

In my meetings I have been repeatedly assured that this process is not simply as a result of finances. The test of this will be evidenced by what weighting finances is given for particular models put forward at the Cabinet Committee meeting on 3 December 2008. In discussions so far the reduced shortfall in government funding has been a key factor driving this consultation process. I will be asking that any proposals put forward will include an analysis of whether a change of Government (2010) will result an increase or a decrease in funding for Barnet Council.

Is it a done deal?
I am been reassured that this is not the case and the consultation is genuine. I can understand why staff may think this particularly if they have read the third paragraph in section 2.3.1 of the 6 May 2008 Cabinet report "Work is already been done in scoping development services, where potential for JVC has been identified."
For those of you coming into the consultation process JVC is not a reference to a multinational electrical company but Joint Venture Company. However a JVC could involve a partnership with a multinational company. Just look at the mess in Somerset County

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