Marketisation of Public Services

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2007 National Delegate Conference
27 February 2007
Carried as Amended

Conference believes that the marketisation of public services threatens the advances that have been made in the last 10 years, brought about as a result of a major investment and reform programme resulting in a dramatic cut in NHS waiting lists and waiting times, rising school standards, falling crime, safer communities and improvements in local services evidenced by across the board improvements in the performance of local councils.

Conference has generally supported these developments and welcomed the vital contribution made by the public service employees to service improvements, but at the same time is alarmed by the daily reports of deficits, of services being cut, such as hospital and library closures and of redundancies and job cuts.

Conference believes that it is the New Labour government’s ideological obsession with the introduction of commercial, competitive markets into public services that is causing so much disruption and the instability. In health there have been initiatives from the crude privatisation of the award winning NHS Logistics, destabilising Payment by Results, to the introduction of a commissioning-only, role for primary care trusts. The Local Government white paper seeks to develop the enabling council, local commissioning by unelected quangos and the concentration of executive power in the hands of a single individual. In probation there are widely condemned plans to privatise services. No public service has been exempt and all are being subjected to a market model designed to create opportunities for the private sector rather than improving services. The ethos and vital advocacy and innovative service delivery roles of the community and voluntary sector are also at risk of being dragged into the market and encouraged to replace the public sector, thereby undermining its independence and integrity.

Conference feels that nowhere amongst these reforms is there any compelling evidence that a market model of delivery will improve services. Instead the changes are being ideologically driven and as each service is reformed the volume of evidence of the harm being done to services grows.

Marketisation compromises the public service principles of social equity and public accountability. It leads to the fragmentation of integrated delivery systems; disrupts collaborative working; substantially increases transaction costs; leads to monopoly profits for private companies and to short term cost-cutting. It has resulted in the fragmentation of employment and to instability and uncertainty for staff. Branches are dealing with multiple employers and this is posing an immense organisational challenge for UNISON and is leading to a worsening of pay and conditions.

UNISON has fought to protect services with major campaigns in health, education, housing, police, probation, under the banner of Positively Public. UNISON has pursued a twin track approach, challenging marketisation and privatisation in principle, whilst campaigning and negotiating to get the best possible deals for members, where privatisation goes ahead.

UNISON has won workforce protections to end the two tier workforce and this conference calls on the National Executive Council to support branches to ensure that these agreements are being implemented, to build organisation and community support and to challenge public authorities and private contractors where they are not.

Conference further calls upon the National Executive Council to:

1)intensify the Positively Public campaign in order to provide a focal point for opposition to marketisation and to strengthen UNISON’s championing of public services;

2)engage with other unions, user and interest groups and local communities to offer government positive alternatives to crude market solutions;

3)support UNISON members at all levels with their campaigns including providing information and research that makes the case against privatisation and marketisation by highlighting their failures and, where appropriate, support members taking industrial action, in accordance with UNISON procedures, against the negative impacts of marketisation;

4)optimise the potential of procurement policies to provide the strongest possible workforce protections;

5)co-ordinate UNISON’s campaigns against marketisation and privatisation at all levels of the union for maximum gain;

6)continue to build and strengthen alliances with other unions, community and user groups around public services in the UK and abroad, work alongside other unions in supporting campaigning initiatives against privatisation and in defence of public services, for example lobbies of parliament, national and local demonstrations and so on ;

7)co-ordinate work on international privatisation developments that impact on UK public services such as GATS and EU Directives on Services and Services of General Interest.

8)call a national demonstration against privatisation in conjunction with the other public sector trade unions, the Trades Union Congress and user groups.

Conference welcomes the work of UNISON’s Labour Link over a number of years which has helped to commit the Labour Party Conference to:

a)subject the Private Finance Initiative to review;

b)restore Britain’s railways to public ownership;

c)campaign for the Fourth Option of council housing;

d)stop the dangerous marketisation of our National Health Service.

Conference notes, however, that while these and other popular UNISON policies may have been adopted by the Labour Party Conference, they are still being ignored or opposed by the Labour Cabinet; and believes that this contradiction may continue unless Labour elects a genuinely new leadership.

Conference recognises that UNISON’s direct input into the election of Labour’s new leader and deputy leader is the preserve of UNISON’s Labour Link levy-payers. In the meanwhile, however, Conference calls on our union’s representatives to use all appropriate channels to help ensure that Tony Blair’s successor as Prime Minister is committed to pursuing popular UNISON and Labour Party policies instead of ignoring or opposing them.