Whilst Cameron and Maude talk the language of choice and localism their true intentions are revealed in draft statutory guidance issued by DCLG. The 'Community Right to Challenge', given to English charities, coops and mutuals under the Localism Act 2011 to bid to run council services has long been regarded as a Trojan horse to open up services to the private sector. The guidance issued by Eric Pickles, with a foreword from Andrew Stunell, confirms just that. The new guidance which you can read in full here at paragraph 9.5 explicitly seeks to stop in-house services from tendering to continue to run services forced out to competition under the 'Community Right to Challenge':
As we all suspected the cloak of localism and 'Big Society' has been dropped to reveal the true intention of a Tory Communities Secretary which is his desire to promote the wholesale privatisation of local council services.
Questions we must now ask are:
How long can ‘cooperative councils’ keep up the pretence of cooperation when in fact this whole agenda is far more rightwing than anything Thatcher engineered? Even those naïve enough to genuinely seek ‘employee led mutuals’ need to recognise now that if you trigger a procurement exercise services will be privatised!
When will the cooperative movement wake up and smell their fair trade coffee - their association with the privatisation of public services will taint their brand irreparable?
Why would the Lib Dem coalition partners support such a move – they have never been in favour of widespread privatisation of council services. Have they been duped? Will Andrew Stunnell and others now call on the Communities Secretary to repeal this paragraph of the guidance prior to its final approval required by Parliament?
UNISON should reiterate to branches that this is only ‘guidance’ and urge them to stand strong and insist on in-house bids. Tactically the Government is hoping that the message will be used by councils who will kowtow to the fear of challenge and therefore refuse in-house bids. They need to be reminded that councils have long-standing powers to do things for themselves and nothing in this guidance can stop that even if it is approved in its current form.
Mr Pickles' pathetic intervention in local government should also be noted….…it was just months go that he stood before Parliament claiming to provide local councils with a General Power of Competence and yet now we see him attempting to control how councils choose to exercise that competence in determining who delivers local services. The irony will not be lost on elected members including those within his own party.