Thursday, 2 December 2010

Letter to Weston Mercury 2nd December 2010

I write in response to your article on the advertisement of a Commercial and Contracts Manager at North Somerset Council. A £60,000 per year post, which apparently will help the council make £42 million of cuts over the next four years. As the Branch Secretary of North Somerset UNISON, the union, which represents council workers, I have a number of concerns about this post. If the post was purely about monitoring contracts UNISON would have fewer issues with it, as it is our view that one of the many problems associated with contracting out public services, is that the contracts are not monitored effectively and contractors are not held to account and penalised for failure to abide by the terms of the contract. But it is my understanding that this post will have responsibility for contracting out services and this is something that UNISON does not support, because it is our view that the privatisation of public services leads to poorer quality and more expensive services, because private companies put profits before people – our fuel bills confirm that. Privatisation also takes public services out of the control of locally elected councillors and therefore local people. Privatisation quite simply means that public money – our money – is used to create profits for private companies of which we are not shareholders. The Coalition government are arguing that the private sector will create jobs to take us out of recession. But it is more likely that so-called new private sector jobs will actually be old public sector jobs transferred to private companies. We also have to wonder how the council will guarantee no loss of jobs in Weston super Mare due to the transfer of council staff to Clevedon, when we are likely to see redundancies.

It is rare for UNISON to agree with the Tax Payers’ Alliance, who in this case have pointed out that all council employees should be working to ensure value for money for tax payers, and that an individual post is not necessary for this purpose. It is a great sadness for North Somerset Council employees that the council has in the recent past shown little interest in involving staff in internal service improvements, despite requests from UNISON, and instead its preferred option has been to look to the private sector. With the advertisement of this job the council have made it clear that they intend to privatise many more services. The leader of the council has also said that they will be asking local people to volunteer to provide services, such as libraries and youth clubs, and that some services will simply stop – for instance street lights will be switched off after a certain time, and grass won’t be cut. The council have also made it clear that they intend to make the cuts by cutting the pay and conditions of some of the lowest paid council employees, the majority of whom are women. This is actually a false economy, as cuts in pay to the low paid will simply add to the benefits bill and reduced pay leads to reduced spending and stunts economic growth.

Nationally and locally UNISON is arguing that public spending cuts are not the only way, or even the right way to cut the deficit. Instead we need to make our taxation system fairer and ensure that those who caused the recession pay for it. The people of North Somerset are about to find out which services they will lose. Any reduction to public services always impacts more severely on the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society, as these are the people who rely on public services. We have asked our councillors to use their influence within their own parties to make it clear to the Coalition government how the cuts will impact on North Somerset. We ask the people of North Somerset to join us in our campaign to defend public services – A Million Voices for Public Services at

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