Knowsley council fears anti-privatisation campaign

As recently reported in the Socialist, Knowsley’s 100% Labour-run council plans to make the local authority a “commissioning council”. Commissioning is privatisation!

“In the services amenable to commissioning, the principles of open public services will switch the default from one where the state commissions the service itself to one where the state commissions the service from a range of diverse providers” (Government White Paper July 2011).

The council report makes plans to outsource almost every service and job, whether ‘backroom’ or ‘frontline’ with funding cuts of up to 25% across the board.

Adult Social Care, employment and skills, and transport are earmarked for “fast track” privatisation. Other services are to follow by April next year.

Since the last report in the Socialist, Knowsley Unison branch has worked hard on making sure that its members know exactly what the plans are, after the council chief executive only distributed the report to employees two days before it went to the council cabinet!

This has involved distributing a union newsletter and briefing note, followed up by organising workplace meetings.

Members have met these proposals with a mixture of anger and disbelief, with one member stating: “I can’t believe a Labour-run council would do this”.

Lobbying the council

Unison then organised a lobby of the council meeting on 19th September. During the daytime before this lobby the council (clearly worried at the reaction to its privatisation plans) sent an email to all staff claiming that “Unison and the North West Socialist Party” were scaremongering! The briefing blamed cuts in funding on central government and claimed that they were not proposing to privatise council services or make any compulsory redundancies.

Unison members and members from other local trade unions showed who they trusted when over 100 people turned out for a lobby of the council.

They held placards stating “no to privatisation”, “no to commissioning” and also gave out a response to the Chief Executive’s email that explained how privatisation measures had already started in some areas and pointed out that the council explicitly said in its report: “it is increasingly difficult to reduce employee numbers without taking compulsory measures”.

What does this mean if not the looming prospect of compulsory redundancies?

Following the lobby Unison has made a proposal to the council on producing an alternative budget with an invite to the Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE) to advise and assist this process.

APSE is a body lobbying for public provision of local authority services and is opposing commissioning/outsourcing. Among its membership are many Labour-led local authorities – including Knowsley!

Knowsley Unison is now going public in the next steps of the campaign, to include activities such as stalls in local town centres, petitions and doorstep campaigning.

Knowsley Unison will also consider calling a Special General Meeting in order to gain a mandate for industrial action if the council refuses to make a u-turn on its commissioning plans.

Knowsley Unison will continue to work with other local trade unions to defend jobs, pay and conditions of service and to tell union members and other staff the truth about what is planned.

Socialist Party members in Unison, Knowsley borough and Merseyside will continue to support the fight against commissioning/privatisation.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 24 September 2012 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.