Efficiency Reviews and Regional Democracy

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2005 Local Government Service Group Conference
19 June 2005

Conference notes with alarm plans announced by the Government and devolved UK administrations to achieve so-called “efficiency savings” in the public sector by increasing productivity and procurement. Conference affirms its commitment to high quality, responsive public services, but believes that the efficiency reviews are cost driven and not likely to improve services.

Each efficiency announcement has the stated aim of ensuring that support services should be shared between public services which should join up across different sectors and across boundaries. Conference believes that, while this might provide economies of scale, it will also result in job losses in local government, damage local economies and accelerate privatisation and reduce the quality and level of services to local communities.

The Scottish Executive’s efficiency paper, ‘Building a Better Scotland’, openly acknowledges that “efficient government will be streamlined government, employing fewer people who are not delivering front-line services.” When further announcements were made by the Scottish Minister for Finance regarding reviews of local government functions and funding as well as boundary changes, yet another period of instability and disruption of service provision emerged as a real fear for our Local Government members. Whilst we welcome the Scottish Executive’s claim to reinvest efficiency savings into the improvement of front line services, there is no indication as to how this will be achieved. We also note with concern the announcement of the reduction in funding for the Supporting People Initiative. This will inevitably result in a reduction in vital services for our most vulnerable community members with consequent job losses and negative impact on our members.

The Welsh Assembly Government has made it clear that the nationally negotiated terms and conditions of service are barriers to efficiency and prevent employers from moving staff between public sector employers.

The Gershon Review in England requires all local authorities to make annual efficiency savings of 2.5%. It also makes clear that efficiency savings are to be made by reducing the price of services, including labour costs. Conference is particularly concerned about the impact this would have on labour-intensive services such as social care. Any efficiency savings are likely to be achieved by cutting terms and conditions of employment or by privatisation. This would also increase the serious recruitment and retention problems existing in these services, which would in turn endanger service provision. Conference rejects the notion that support staff are not essential to the delivery of high quality services.

All efficiency plans are targeting sickness absence and pay to make savings. This is likely to reduce further the amount of funding available for Single Status, training and workforce development and schools remodelling.

Conference also deplores the Government’s devolvement of key areas of policy development and service delivery to unelected and undemocratic regional government bodies such as the Government Offices for the Regions, Learning and Skills Councils, the Regional Development Agencies, and the Regional Centres of Procurement Excellence. These regional bodies directly influence the ability of local authorities to make decisions about local services, but are unaccountable to local people who use and fund them.

Conference therefore calls on the Local Government Service Group to:

1)To liaise with Regional Local Government Committees to establish a UK strategy that will shape UNISON’s response to efficiency programmes at national and local level.


3)Provide campaigning and negotiating advice and guidance for UNISON stewards and branch officers to deal with central and local government proposals on efficiency targets, to include best practice examples of where efficiency savings could be generated without cuts to services and jobs


5)Monitor the development and impact of the efficiency plans on terms and conditions, jobs and services


7)Ensure that the commitments made by the National Assembly for Wales and Scottish Executive to engage and involve the workforce and trade unions in developing efficiency plans are implemented at local level across the UK


9)Seek an undertaking from the Government and national employers to involve and consult the workforce and trade unions in England on their efficiency plans


11)Publicise the impact of the efficiency proposals on jobs, terms and conditions and service quality amongst UNISON members, the public, MPs and MSPs


13)Continue UNISON’s campaign to ensure that funding and resources are made available to provide quality services and employment without loss of services or staff


15)Campaign to ensure that measures are taken to counter