Blog Archives

Outsourcing 7: bring privatised services and PFI deals back into public ownership

As Paul Halas writes (Western Daily Press, 7 December 2019, p. 30):

“Over the past few decades privatisations have included Royal Mail, British Gas, electricity, water and sewage treatment, the 999 calls service, much of the ambulance service, the NHS appointments service, British Steel, large parts of the education service, the Coal Board (as was), the probation service, many prisons and detention centres, large chunks of the care services, British Airways, British Rail… ad infinitum”).

Martin Rudland draws attention to the ‘we own it’ website which focusses on privatisation of public services which wastes billions each year on shareholder dividends and high borrowing costs, giving links to research into costs in several sectors including water, energy, transport, broadband, Royal Mail and NHS.

Transnational Engie is on the list of Luton and Dunstable University Hospital’s suppliers of domestic, catering and cleaning services. Unison and GMB are calling for these services to be brought back in-house once Engie’s contract ends next year.

UNISON, the union representing workers at Luton & Dunstable Hospital, points out that staff who were transferred from the NHS in 2015 are being paid NHS rates of £9.02 an hour but anyone who started since is paid the legal minimum of £8.21 an hour.

New starters are paid at least £1,400 less than colleagues who were at the hospital before cleaning services were sold off. Engie employees have also told UNISON that they are being denied leave and being made to take the blame when the contractor is pulled up by the Trust for any shortcomings in service.

UNISON’s Eastern regional organiser Winston Dorsett said, “Engie has confused and demoralised its staff further with a third set of pay and conditions brought in last year to squeeze a bit more cash out of the taxpayer. This firm is making its profits off the backs of some of the lowest-paid workers in our NHS”.

GMB regional organiser Hilda Tavolara agrees that the workers “deserve to be treated fairly by their employer” and points out that last year, housekeepers’ working hours and wages were cut, yet they were still expected to do the same amount of work. This has had a knock-on effect on the patients, their families and visitors.

Hospital chiefs are offering Engie a new 10-year contract to provide the services, proposing to outsource a number or employees currently working for the NHS but UNISON is calling on the Trust not to renew Engie’s contract next year and bring cleaning, catering and housekeeping back in-house.

This week an IPPR study revealed the cost of private finance initiatives (PFI) contracts in the NHS.

These contracts brought £13 billion of initial investment capital into the health system but by the time they have ended the NHS will have spent £80 billion on them.

This is money which could have been spent on doctors’ and nurses’ salaries, on improving treatments, or on making sure young mental health inpatients don’t have to stay in hospitals hundreds of miles away from their family and friends.

The IPPR report reveals that £55 billion of this debt is still outstanding – representing a huge burden on tight NHS resources if the government does not take action. It recommends that bad deals be brought back into public ownership.

After wondering whether what’s left of the NHS is really going to remain in the public domain under the Tories, Paul Halas adds: “What they (private companies) all have in common is poorer service, higher prices, worse wages and conditions for employees, and a haemorrhaging of money to highly paid executives and shareholders, many of them based overseas and avoiding tax in this country”, ending:

“The Tories’ long-term goal has always been to shrink the public sector to the size of a walnut and until the NHS, the last of the public service dominoes, is toppled it’ll remain a thorn in their ideological flesh”. 

 

 

 

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Austerity 8: the prison service

Impressive new entrance (Winson Green) and corporate/political rhetoric: fearful reality

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After a series of violent incidents in recent months at HMP Lewes and HMP Bedford, four wings at HMP Birmingham in high-security Winson Green, had to be sealed after disturbances broke out. About 260 prisoners were involved.

Despite the record of G4S, which now runs five prisons in the UK, management of this prison was handed over to the private sector company in 2011. Unions opposed the deal which reduced staff numbers and pay rates.

So many public sector officers had to be drafted to ‘manage’ the Winson Green ‘dispute’ that control had to be transferred to the public sector HM Prison Service.

There have been sharp cuts to prison staff numbers as part of the 2010-15 coalition’s austerity drive even though the prison population has doubled since 1993 to more than 85,000. There are now 65 assaults behind bars every day and in the year to June, assaults on staff jumped 43% to 5,954, with 697 recorded as serious.

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Yesterday former Conservative Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove appeared to have a change of heart. His words, reported in a recent speech, were: “I am convinced that we cannot provide the effective level of rehabilitation we need for offenders without either increasing expenditure significantly or reducing prisoner numbers overall, because overcrowded prisons are more likely to be academies of crime, brutalisers of the innocent and incubators of addiction rather than engines of self-improvement.”

 

 

 

Soapbox 499: A ’new feudalism’ with a new dominant elite belonging to no specific community or nation

 

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On Soapbox for the 99%, Simon Baddeley writes:

Something awful is happening to the public sector. The role of the state in protecting the public good is being relentlessly diminished in front of our eyes – like the slow melting of the polar areas that so many deny.

We don’t recognise the form of this slow motion disaster and being too literal about what is happening can label us as alarmist even paranoid.

The blighting of democracy and especially local democracy works on the principle of death by an infinite progression of cuts against which it can be almost impossible to take a moral stand.

Yet what is happening is profoundly immoral – the result of political decisions.

The only growth is in the chasm between the very rich and the growing poor; the growth industries are soup kitchens and billionaires.

For its lack of transparency and lack of democratic control we have a ’new feudalism’ with a new dominant elite belonging to no specific community or nation, paying little or no tax and feeling (with honourable exceptions) no obligation nor attachment to any locality.

There are now 1293 imposed duties placed upon Local Authorities by central government, half of which have been imposed in the last 15 years leading – despite talk of a Big Society to a diminishing scope for localism and local initiatives.

Section 5 of the Localism Act gives the Secretary of State powers to remove obstacles to the General Power of Competence but the act contains 140 reserve powers which can be used against LAs.

We can see where the formal power resides. I speak as one long involved in local voluntary activity who will continue to do this so long as my health remains – but the world is becoming a nastier place and this is because that’s the way a small minority of unaccountable free-floating billionaires want it to be – supported by generously funded free market think tanks producing ‘objective’ proofs that how things are is how things ought to be.

Source: Thatcherism isn’t dead when all parties are locked into it.