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

Monday, 10 February 2014

Labour's Citizen Smith is missing the mark

For someone who has taken such an anti-radical view of policy it is a touch ironic that Ed Miliband has now decided his election rallying cry will be a Citizen Smith style ‘power to the people’. Unfortunately there is nothing remotely radical in his ideas – just a re-hash of Hazel Blears days in local government and communities and Blair’s obsession with NHS meddling under the guise of patient power. Perhaps Mr Miliband needs a little lesson on what already exists in terms of ‘people power’:

First of all the Duty of Best Value introduced by Labour in 1997, and in spite of Coalition changes still subsist, enshrines within it a duty for local councils to involve and consult citizens in the design and delivery of local public services.

Secondly - on use of data – another plank of his reforms – the Local Audit and Accountability Bill is already weaving its way through Parliament and in any event the existing Government has already introduced the Code of Practice on Data Transparency and reforms to FOI legislation - so what we are really hearing about is old wine in new bottles. When he references people having access to their own data – they already have this if they want it. Was it not the Labour government who set up the successful Information Commissioners office to safeguard data rights and data wrongs?

Third he claims that he will give parents the power to intervene in education services – they had a power to intervene via the ballot box but the pseudo labour politicians cheering on the Tory dismantling of the LEA has removed parent power from the equation – the sum of this reform is a denial of democratic accountability for local education.

A fourth plank of these non-reforms is that people will be given the power to be involved in local services. Again this non-idea has surfaced at intermittent times over the last two decades but most recently under the guise of the community right to challenge under the Localism Act - a spectacular damp squib designed to ensure Councils spend interminable amounts of time on bureaucratic compliance measures with little interest from local people but every prospect of the rights being used as Trojan horse by private sector vested interests. Sadly now mirrored in the Scottish equivalent Community Empowerment Bill.

Whoever is advising Miliband clearly needs to refresh their knowledge on what the UK has already attempted (on a failed basis) in this arena. The reality is that there is no groundswell of citizens barracking councils, hospitals or schools for reform and improvement – the reason is because the vast majority of the public sector – or state as Miliband pejoratively describes it – is not failing. For citizens to be rising up to the rallying cry of the out-of-touch middle class elite of new labour would involve their being some substance to the concept of failing public services; the reality is in spite of the cuts and the risk to future service delivery the stalwarts in the public sector are simply getting on with a very difficult job and delivering good public services with far higher levels of customer satisfaction with services than any Government is prepared to give credit for.

If Miliband wants to help citizens he should stop this utter drivel which has no resonance with the electorate and place proper funding of public services at the heart of his policies. We need big numbers on new social housing commitments. We need big numbers on reforming and delivering social care fit to face the challenges of our older people. We need to have elected representation with teeth in the health services and reinstate the disenfranchised parents back into the heart of local LEAs.

In short we need some real policies not theorising predicated on a myth of a failing public sector baked by the Tory party and iced with a cherry on top by a vacuous new Labour leadership; having predominantly come into politics through academia, this pathetic and damaging clique need to just shut the hell up until they get themselves some better advisers.

Anna Rose