- Monday, 11 June 2012
- Written by Steve Brown (Northumberland UNISON - Personal Capacity) and Bill Landles (Blyth CLP- Personal Capac
Not content with job losses which have already reached 1300, Northumberland County Council’s Lib Dem and Tory leaders are seeking to privatise up to 1,000 further jobs through a so called “Public Private Partnership”. The proposal would mean a transfer to the PPP Company by the end of this financial year.
The effect on council services is likely to be dramatic. Privatisation inevitably drives down wages and cuts corners, which in a county like Northumberland with isolated communities, hundreds if not thousands of miles of roads and a high elderly proportion – which in some areas is 25 - 30% above the national average could mean many vulnerable people being left high and dry.
Certainly, any so called “Private Partner” would want to cherry pick what services they deliver; after all private providers are in it for the money, not to provide a public service. If that is the case in the big cities, then Northumberland, which is very rural apart from the south east corner, is going to be put on short measures.
UNISON members working for the privatised Connexions Service in Northumberland were on the receiving end of the first round of “in year” Con Dem cuts in 2010, when they were forced to go on short time when the council pulled 25% of their funding half way through the year, resulting in 50% cuts. This won’t have been lost on the Council workers the Lib Dems intend to transfer to a private provider.
The Lib Dems and Tories have been criticised for trying to force these measures through at breakneck speed. According to the Newcastle Journal:
But the authority was accused of planning the move “secretly and quickly” to give opponents no “chance to react”. Fears have been voiced that services could “go downhill” and jobs could be lost once they are privatised.
There are two reasons why the Lib Dems and Tories are trying to force this policy through so quickly. Firstly because of the cuts that the Lib Dem and Tory coalition have imposed, and secondly because they know that they are likely to get thrashed in the County Council Elections next May.
Northumberland’s Lib Dem and Tories leaders have already raised car parking charges, limited the times that pensioners can use their bus passes and cut school transport budgets in an emergency budget in April to deal with an overspend in the year 2011/2012.
These cuts are nothing compared to the Lib Dem and Tory plans for the next 3 years. The experience of privatisation in other areas in the past would indicate clearly that the PPP plan is little more than an attempt to offload Council Staff and then use contractual arrangements with private companies to drive down costs by cutting staff and wage levels. After all, local authority services are in the main very labour intensive. How do you make privatised companies profitable? By paying the workforce peanuts and pocketing the difference in the hourly rate between what the company charges and what the workforce receive. This year the Alcan factory at Lynemouth will be shut down with the loss of 515 jobs, 323 of which went this May. Northumberland doesn’t need Con Dem cuts on top of the loss of a plant that generated £60 million per annum to the local economy.
Northumberland County Council is the biggest employer in the County employing currently some 12,000 people of whom 1,000 are based at County Hall. Most work in schools, libraries, fire stations, social services establishments and other buildings around Northumberland. Most people live in the County or spend their money in it, which means that attacks on wages affect the community directly.
Again according to the Newcastle Journal
“The briefing says councillors would be responsible for deciding which services are included in the partnership’s scope.
It claims “a driving principle of our PPP values is that the council will continue to be democratically accountable for all the services it resources.” The document adds the council is “committed to continued and full consultation with our elected members, employees and unions.”
UNISON have responded to the report by quite correctly asking for more information. How will the Lib Dems save £75 million over 3 years without any job losses?
UNISON, GMB and UNITE members in Northumberland should be demanding that the Council opens the books. Just how do the Lib Dems and the Tories intend to save all of this money without any job cuts?
Who are the proposed private partners? What is their track record? Who are their shareholders and how many of them are connected to the Tory Party and the Lib Dems?
Socialist Appeal supporters in Northumberland have argued consistently that Labour needs to develop a socialist programme to fight the cuts in Northumberland. We argued for a special Labour movement conference in Northumberland which took place in November 2011 to launch a campaign against the cuts in the County. Our motion called for the Labour Group to carry out the immediate reversal of all proposed cuts to budgets and take back into public/council ownership all services which have been sold off under previous administrations and bring an end to all private contacts.
UNISON, GMB and UNITE should be meeting with members and developing a strategy to fight this proposal, every line in the Council’s proposal should be studied and resisted. The equalities impact of the proposal should be investigated and the Trade unions in the county should call public meetings in every village to explain the damage that these proposals will do.
Trade unions should organise demonstrations and lobbies of the Executive and full council and should demand the support of the Labour Councillors and MPs in the County. The Tories and Lib Dems are on dodgy ground and can be defeated. But that requires the involvement of hundreds and thousands of trade union members and a clear sighted leadership.
• No outsourcing or privatisation
• Stop the Public Private Partnership
• Defeat the Tory cuts
• Drive the Lib Dems and Tories out
• For a Majority Labour Council on a Socialist programme of No Cuts and No redundancies