UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Compass speaker points the way at West Midlands

Neal Lawson from Compass was the invited speaker at the West Midlands UNISON Spring Seminar last night in Birmingham. Addressing an audience of activists, officials and politicians he began with a critique of New Labour and previous attempts to reform the public sector.

His key point was that the Labour party and the wider trade union movement has to got to pose a genuine credible alternative to what has gone before and that without that we face the danger of always defending the past. Whilst we strongly fight privatisation and market led reform we still need to show that we understand public services and what we need to do to build an alternative.

The Coalition Government is still pursuing the two strategies of old. Change is either driven from the centre with target led reforms and inflexible dictates or is led by imposing the market on a needs led service. Both have and are failing to reform or improve the public services, either masking or stipulating cuts and closures.

These strategies, Neale argued, do nothing to improve the services in a manner that gives a voice to the users or the local communities. As a result the bureaucracies remain a distant, inflexible and dictatorial other entity, alienated from the community. This, he argues, undermines our case for progressive modern public services because we appear to be defending the status quo and offer no vision.

To achieve this goal of identifying how the public services should look Neale identified four main elements that need to be incorporated. Firstly there has to be diversity, based on geography and communities and rejection of the one size fits all.

Secondly there has to be equality - possibly centrally driven - but an end to post code lotteries and empty notions of 'choice'.

Thirdly there has be a rediscovery of professionalism - listening to the medical experts and to the service providers. Lastly there has to be democracy, the users and the workforce must have a voice and people must be accountable.

This is the conversation that Compass wants us to have - what is the real nature of our alternative? Nostalgia for the nationalising actions of the 1945 Labour Government were not enough, we have a different society based on different notions.

Resources were acknowledged as a major issue that need to be addressed. Listening would need to be a big part of the process, something we are not used to doing.

The seminar was a great success. The debate was informed and fraternal and well attended and the need to repeat these events was obvious. The next speaker will be Larry Elliot from the Guardian

For more information on Compass go to: http://www.compassonline.org.uk/