Improving Local Services

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2003 Local Government Service Group Conference
21 February 2003
Carried as Amended

Conference endorses UNISON’s support for world class public services and commits itself to working with councils to achieve that aim.

However, Conference believes that the Government’s approach centres on a ‘big stick’ approach to performance management, rather than serious investment in staff and services, which hinders, rather than helps councils and staff to improve. While welcoming the limited new freedoms to borrow within the ‘prudential framework’. Conference deplores:

1)Continuing under-investment in councils, amounting to an estimated shortfall of £8 billion for revenue spending in England alone in this year’s local government settlement

2)The Government’s emphasis on investment in ‘services’ not ‘staff’

3)Capital controls which force councils down the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and privatisation route

Conference also notes the growth of audit, inspection and league tables as the Government’s primary approach to improvement in England. Conference condemns the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) which:

a)Is a simplistic and subjective means of assessing complex local authorities

b)Focuses councils’ activity on inspection not innovation

c)Categorises councils on the basis of poor performance in a single service

d)Over-rides democratic decisions about local priorities

e)Is geared towards delivering ‘weak’ and ‘poor’ judgements

f)Penalises smaller councils with high levels of deprivation and diverse communities

g)Has no right of appeal

Conference calls on the SGE to monitor its effects on staff and services and notes the lack of transparency in Formula Spending Shares assessments, despite supposed reform of the allocation system and the ongoing emphasis on challenge funding and ring-fencing, which hinders long-term planning and distorts local priorities

Conference believes that over twenty years of so-called ‘modernisation’ of local government throughout the UK have failed to deliver world class services, despite the co-operation of staff who have suffered job loss, privatisation and cuts to terms and conditions under Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT), PFI and Best Value. Conference also believes that more constructive and democratic approaches are being adopted in Scotland and Wales, though levels of investment remain inadequate.

Conference believes that further improvement in services will not happen without significant investment in the workforce, though improved pay and conditions and workforce development. The recruitment and retention crisis throughout local government is an indicator of poor staff morale and the neglect of the workforce. Changes to service delivery should not come about at the cost of conditions of service of those delivering the service.

This Conference opposes the alteration to working hours, methods of working or working conditions arising from changes to service delivery without the agreement of the workforce and agrees to support all branches taking official industrial action to oppose such changes.

UNISON will support branches taking official industrial action in response to changes in working practices linked to service delivery improvements which are introduced without the agreement of the workforce.

Conference therefore calls on the SGE to:

i)Continue to campaign vigorously for increases in local government funding in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales sufficient to meet revenue and capital investment needs

ii)Demand greater financial freedoms to allow councils to borrow to improve services

iii)Use the Local Government Pay Commission and the 2004/5 pay claims through the National Joint Council and Scottish Joint Council to call for ‘investment for improvement’ through improved pay and conditions and Single Status implementation

iv)Call for a major increase in funding in workforce development and training, in line with NHS levels

v)Campaign for new approaches to improvement which build on good practice, place staff at their centre and involve the workforce and trade unions.