Public Services

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2004 National Delegate Conference
9 June 2004

Conference shares the government’s ambitions of a future fair for all, delivering to all citizens world class public services based on need and not the ability to pay.

The public services have become the new political battleground on which the last general election was, and the next will be, fought. Conference notes with great regret but little surprise the Conservative Party’s announcements in February of plans to cut public expenditure by £35 billion and repudiates suggestions that such large amounts of money are currently being wasted and that schools and hospitals will not suffer as a result of such cuts. Recent opinion polls highlight that the public is aware of the Tories’ fallacious claims and that they support well-run public services appropriately funded through general taxation.

The arguments may continue between the politicians about competition, performance, value for money, contracts, targets, league tables, choice and fairness but to the staff the direction of travel is clear. The increasing marketisation of public services brings a threat to the public service ethos and universal services, increased means testing and charging, cuts in pay and conditions, inequalities, increases in work intensity, and stress and unnecessary bureaucracy at the expense of serving the public.

Conference believes that these developments are part of the neo-liberal agenda of deregulation, low taxation and low public services. This agenda is being pursued by governments in Europe and the USA, as well as through institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. We note that even Germany, France and Italy are threatening the privatisation of public services. Conference believes in an alternative model based on people’s needs, collective welfare provision and social solidarity.

UNISON members strive to meet the individualised needs of a diverse and complex range of citizens who need responsive services which offer them real choices whilst ensuring that they meet the key public sector principles of equity, universality, and public ownership and accountability. We welcome the additional money and resources put into health, local government, education, crime and disorder and other areas, although we remain concerned at the level of time-limited, ring-fenced funding which is often ill-thought out and wasteful and which limits flexibility and strategic planning of service provision.

Despite the increased spending the much vaunted reform agenda has not led to the massive improvements that such spending should achieve. UNISON believes this is directly linked to the dogmatic use of the private sector in our public services, dogmatic reorganisations based on structures rather than need and the lack of investment in training and skills.

The marketisation and voluntarisation of the NHS and of local government has led to a fragmentation whereby reforms can not be acted upon because all too often services are led by contract compliance not by need. Marketisation has shackled the ability of the public sector to reform. It is therefore impossible for public sector managers to meet a new improvement targets, redirect spending into training and investment or comply with equal pay legislation, when they are dominated by binding commercial arrangements and a plethora of inspections that are not imposed upon the private sector providers.

Conference is alarmed at some of the reports surrounding the government’s Gershon Review on efficiency within the public sector and condemns the announcement of 40,000 civil service job losses by Gordon Brown.

Conference has reflected upon these trends every year and given the union a clear direction every time.

In 1999 the union agreed a major taxation report which showed the way extra money could be raised to expand services. The high profile positively public campaign was launched in 2000 and in 2001 UNISON instigated a hard hitting campaign against increased private sector involvement and against the two tier workforce. In 2002 we welcomed the Labour government’s much needed £60 billion boost to services, £40 billion of which was for bringing NHS spending up to the European Union average. In 2003 progress was made in tackling the two-tier workforce and consolidating opposition to new forms of privatisation and PFI and we critically dissected the government’s reform programme.

Conference believes that public investment in the existing staff is the key to public service improvement and Labour winning a third term. Future reforms must be fully funded and staff given the tools to do the job. Outsourcing does not improve services but locks in a low cost and low quality service delivery model. Furthermore, market disciplines and the denigration of services as “bog standard” will not motivate staff and politicians should acknowledge good services and strive to make them better. Therefore in 2004 and 2005 Conference resolves to reinvigorate public services by:

1)campaigning against Local Government spending cuts and Tory spending plans and promoting UNISON policy during the Spending Review negotiations;


3)campaigning vigorously to exclude profiteering private contractors from key public services such as the NHS, local government, the post office, air traffic control and the railways and to compel contractors to adopt minimum contract standards on workforce training, equal pay, profit capping and sharing, open accounts policies and service reinvestment;


5)promoting the benefits of directly provided services accountable to democratically elected representatives;


7)expanding the workforce code achieved in local government across the public sector;