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

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Tory admission of private sector failure but let's promulgate the myths anyway!

The BBC reports that Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has reflected on the G4S debacle and admits that it has challenged his thinking on private sector capability. But before we pop the champagne corks and celebrate the arrival of common sense into Tory party consensus let's take a closer look at what Hammond has actually said. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19251772

In slating the unsuitability of the private sector model of delivery, that is not so much lean as anorexic, relying upon the deployment of unskilled staff at the very last minute in order to save on labour costs, Hammond throws in the popular myth that the public sector could only step up to the challenge because we are awash with inefficiencies and operate on a model of service delivery by having spare capacity that is rarely used. This is a common myth amongst those that have never managed or operated in a public service environment.

In reality public services are rationed which means the resources available are also rationed and this is unlikely to change in any of our lifetimes. What we have seen in public services since the end of the post war consensus is Government after Government impose new policies on the public sector in order to drive efficiencies; CCT under Thatcher, ‘Best Value’ under Blair and Brown, and now savage cuts under Cameron.

The idea that the public sector can continue to operate with under-used capacity is therefore simply mythical. What we have managed to do with the absolute commitment of the trade unions is to maintain core capacity to deliver public services.

There have been some harsh choices for trade unions around the negotiating table – at a local level many have had to concede on overtime, seasonal hours and yes pay and grading structures too! The public sector has gone to a largely ‘top up’ model of delivery – cutting to the absolute bone and buying in capacity where it is needed. It is hardly ideal and from an employment perspective smacks of exploitation but that is the reality of today’s public services - casualised staff and a very slimmed down core.

From a quality aspect we would should actually increase core capacity in public services. It is however a balance where the budgets available dictate the tipping point at which we start to lose real core capacity and risk the very services we provide. The Hammond view of the world would still put at risk the core capacity to deliver. Thankfully he is a lone voice, at least amongst the majority of councils, as research on ‘The Ensuring Council’ by APSE demonstrates. The public sector do not want or trust hollowed out public services.

Anna Rose