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

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Cross-dressing vision of local government innovation

The Economist suggests that there is a quiet revolution in local government that central government could learn from. Citing innovation and practices, such as outsourcing, by Conservative authorities alongside the 'political cross-dressing left-wing Lambeth' which is pursuing a version of Mr Cameron’s now-abandoned Big Society agenda. http://www.economist.com/node/21563333?fsrc=scn/tw/te/pe/Britainslocal  However, the Economist piece is lazy and frankly a bit tardy in its analysis.

Even prior to Gershon days local government has faced public sector cuts. Facing year on year increases in demand, particularly in social care, with budgets nowhere near the exponential growth witnessed in health spending, local government fast became the poor relation of the public sector long before Cameron’s cuts.

What is clear is that the left/right divide in local councils and local policies has been muddied by inept Labour councils adopting Tory policies of outsourcing and, as amusingly described by The Economist, the ‘political cross dressing’ with councils such as Rochdale, Oldham and Lambeth signing up to the ill-conceived student politics of the ‘cooperative councils’ network. Short of saying ‘we support motherhood and apple pie’ what does this organisation stand for?

Outsourcing is fine so long as it is to a bunch of opportunistic staff who want to jump on the outsourcing bandwagon but wear a cloak of respectability? Outsourcing is fine so long as it is to a well-meaning but immature ‘social enterprise’ sector reliant upon continued public sector money that is a finite resource and decreasing? Outsourcing is fine because they genuine think it is acceptable to replace democratic public accountability with ‘organisational accountability’? Two entirely different concepts but trumpeted by these student politicians as somehow more democratic?

At least with Tory councils pursuing outsourcing agendas with Capita, Serco and the likes it is a clear fight against privatisation of public services, disguised as innovation, we know without any ambiguity it is a cop-out. With the cooperative councils network their misplaced self-righteous approach can complicate campaigning against privatisation with staff being duped into the belief that somehow this is different. It is not. It is still privatisation.

Anna Rose