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Fight begins against massive outsourcing by Knowsley's Labour council
Hugh Caffrey, North West Socialist Party
Knowsley's Labour council on Merseyside has announced shocking plans to outsource almost all its services and jobs.
The Unison local government union branch has launched a fight to defend its members and the services they provide.
The Unison branch's strategy of informing members, preparing a public campaign and a mass lobby of the next full council meeting, is winning strong support from the workforce. A fighting lead can enthuse workers, even when facing an onslaught such as this.
The plans are devastating. Almost every service and job, whether 'backroom' or 'frontline', will be outsourced, with funding cuts of up to 25% across the board.
Adult social care, employment and skills, and transport are earmarked for "fast track" privatisation, to be in place by Christmas. Other services are to follow by April next year.
The range and quality of services will be hugely reduced, based on cutting council funding and using the cheapest private providers.
Knowsley's claimants of council tax benefit will lose a total £2.6-3 million. Council tax bills will be raised by the maximum possible without triggering a referendum, one that the council would be likely to lose.
In May the council for the first time became 100% Labour, with not a single councillor elected from another party.
In return, the council is carrying out policies on a par with the worst Tory-led councils and the Blairites' dream of American-style local government, in which councils exist only to award contracts to the private sector.
Clearly the council is taking advantage of its result in May, when this was never put to the electorate, and the fact that there are no elections to the council next year.
The council claims it has no choice, with a £38 million deficit due to government cuts over the next three years. This does not add up even according to the council's own figures.
The council's projections show that for the 12 months from April, it will be £6.85-£12.368 million in the red.
Yet £45.507 million sits in council-wide reserves, and another £10.201 million in a "portfolio reserve" for a variety of projects including PFI privatisation plans.
A further £8.618 million in "unallocated reserves" is available to spend right now! The council could use the £8.618 million plus 10% of the council-wide reserve, not have to borrow a single penny more, and have no financial need for cuts/outsourcing through to April 2014. The cut to council tax benefit is a tiny fraction of the sums sitting in reserves.
Many staff were already facing the possibility of major cuts to pay and/or conditions of service through the implementation of the Single Status agreement.
Unison is fighting this. If the council gets away with this, it could mean large cuts to salaries for many staff, despite a £5.27 million pot set aside for Single Status!
The only conclusion which can be drawn from these facts is that the council wants to privatise services, wants to cut benefits, and wants to see local authority workers suffer massive pay cuts.
Unison members in Knowsley face the fight of their lives. Socialist Party members in the Unison branch, elsewhere in Knowsley and across Merseyside will be mobilising maximum support to defeat these plans.
- Lobby Knowsley council - Wednesday 19th September, 6pm, Huyton municipal buildings.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 31 August 2012 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.