Monday, June 09, 2008

Future Shape of Barnet Council -UNISON Conference

I have mentioned in previous BLOG posts the challenges facing members of UNISON Somerset County Branch. Next week is the start of UNISON National Conference, this is a motion submitted by Somerset UNISON branch

DRAFT COMPOSITE A STRATEGIC SERVICE DELIVERY PARTNERSHIPS/SHARED SERVICES [Motions 28 and 29, Amendments 28.1, 28.2, 28.3, 28.4, 29.1]
Conference notes that the government is promoting Strategic Service-delivery Partnerships (SSP), Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) in local government. We are concerned that these policies will have a detrimental impact on our members' terms and conditions of employment. The roll out of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health legislation may accelerate these public/private ventures. Conference further notes that changes at local delivery level have the potential to affect more than local government services and members. Health, police and transport authorities are expected to be drawn into local strategic partnerships.

We note there is little evidence that they are more efficient or accountable than directly delivered local government services. We further note the failure of partnerships within the private sector in Bedfordshire and West Berkshire resulted in the "partnered out" services being transferred back to the local authority with huge financial penalties being incurred by the local authority.

One major development in the South West in the course of 2007 has been the creation of a 'joint venture company' (JVC) by Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council and the business and technology company IBM – Avon and Somerset Police are expected to join up in January 2008. This is a strategic service delivery partnership (SSP). It has been named Southwest One. An intention of Southwest One is to offer 'back office' services to other authorities and organisations in the region.

The creation of a framework agreement has created further concerns. 35 public bodies have signed the framework agreement. We are appalled that the agreement can lead to jobs being exported from other public bodies to the JVC without following the procurement and options appraisals and may reduce union involvement in shaping service delivery.

The scope for change in how services are shaped and delivered, offered for example by the creation of the new unitary councils, the working of Local Strategic Partnerships and by the emerging range of SSPs across the country, that may be considered as models by councils, is considerable. It has been reported that a consortia of London Boroughs approached the DCLG about how to achieve efficiencies savings. The DCLG referred them to Southwest One.

UNISON has expressed reservations about the establishment of full partnerships of councils and private companies to develop services, rather than say by fostering shared services between authorities themselves (eg public-public partnerships). Conference notes the lack of evidence to demonstrate that Strategic Service Delivery Partnerships actually benefit service users, the workforce or elected councillors.

Most importantly, UNISON believes that policies and mechanisms must ensure that savings that result from administrative improvements are reinvested in front line services.

UNISON is concerned that overarching partnerships with private companies raise major conflicts with the community culture of local government, for example:

1) local democracy may be compromised;
2) public access to financial information about services may be in conflict with commercial confidentiality;
3) longer term costs are uncertain and out of the control of authorities;
4) staff expertise and commitment may be undermined;
5) commercialised local services may lose their community face;
6) regionalisation may foster growth in the need to travel;
7) likely impact on employment in services and loss of local employment;
8) profits being set aside from public funds and moved away from the local economy;
9) services tending to businesses that only serve those who can afford to pay.

We welcome the fact that branches have accumulated a great deal of experience of the issues that arise and are using the services of organisations such as the European Services Strategy Unit (continuing the work of the Centre for Public Services) who conduct thorough analysis and research on behalf of trade unions and local authorities. The European Services Strategy Unit is documenting the story of Southwest One and is identifying recommendations and other branches have similarly commissioned consultants to challenge outsourcing exercises.

UNISON nationally has commissioned APSE to carry out research to help the union meet the ongoing challenges posed by public service reform across the UK and to promote directly provided services. This project has examined 17 branches involved in major outsourcing across the UK and across sectors. In addition UNISON is reviewing and updating all branch advice on outsourcing and is developing new materials and training courses.

We believe that the continued approach of the government in encouraging outsourcing, privatisation and "partnership working" is detrimental to democracy and accountability within public services.

We believe the increased use of markets, private providers and competition in public services (policies all three main parties appear to support) is alien to the needs of the vast majority of society and gives large corporations extended profits and control.

We oppose the use of commissioning in public services and note with concern that the government is expecting local authorities (and the health service) to commission rather than be direct service providers.

We are committed to the Positively Public Campaign and we believe that "partnering out" is contrary to our own policies.

Conference notes that the issue of shared services has moved up the political agenda but that the union has been slow to provide advice to branches on dealing with this in all its aspects. Conference requests that appropriate advice and training are made available ideally within two months of conference but also that the National Executive Council examines how communications can be improved, so that important issues that are starting to be evident at branch level can be fed back to the national union to ensure that advice and resources are available.

Conference calls on the National Executive Council to:

a) encourage public employers to include participation and information access protocols that ensure transparency, in their procurement options appraisal and policies;
b) continue to develop up to date national, regional and branch information, advice and guidance on the challenging of all new kinds of outsourcing mechanisms and to campaign against all forms of privatisation;
c) develop cross-service strategies to oppose public private partnerships;
d) develop regional and cross-regional strategies to challenge public private partnerships and other outsourcing mechanisms;
e) develop strategies to protect and support members and new starters who are affected by outsourcing;
f) support and advise branches to win in-house provision of services
g) encourage regions and branches to work with supporting organisations such as the European Services Strategy Unit and APSE as part of an overall strategic approach to challenging all forms of outsourcing
h) take this matter forward using the political funds where necessary and call on the part of UNISON known as UNISON Labour Link to campaign against the government’s privatisation and marketisation agenda;
i) campaign amongst all progressive organisations (trade unions, tenants groups, TUC, councillors and MPs) to bring about a reversal of this current government's "direction of travel" in respect of Private Finance Initiative (PFI), Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and the Strategic Service Delivery Partnerships (SSP);
j) report back at the next conference the progress made in the matters raised above;

28 South West Region
28.1 North Cornwall LG
28.2 Scotland Region
28.3 National Executive Council
28.4 Somerset County
29 Somerset County
29.1 National Executive Council

Amendment A.1 (Amendment 28.5)
Insert new point i)

i) call on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee to launch a formal investigation to assess the performance of Strategy Service Delivery Partnerships;
28.5 Somerset County

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